Higher Speeds Safe On Some Highways, Specialist Says

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Some Tennessee interstate highways could accommodate higher speed limits without increasing the risk of automobile accidents, a University of Tennessee transportation specialist said Monday.

Dr. Steve Richards, who directs the UT Transportation Center, said some roads, primarily interstate highways, are designed for high speeds generally in less-traveled, rural areas.

“There are certain classes of roadways that are designed for speeds up to 80 miles per hour,” Richards said. “On these roadways speed limits could be raised to 70 miles an hour without negatively impacting safety.”

The federal government has rescinded its 55 mph requirement for some interstates, leaving states free to decide limits for themselves.

Tennessee has 1,094 miles of interstate highways. Rural sections have had 65 mph speed limits since 1987, but 55 mph speed limits remain in urban areas.

State legislators will consider in January whether to raise speed limits on Tennessee interstate highways. Montana plans to eliminate daytime speed limits on rural highways.

“States like Tennessee that are contemplating increased speed limits should base their decisions on engineering principles and other safety considerations,” Richards said.

“Speed limits should not be arbitrarily increased across the board. There are some types of roadways that may not be designed properly to accommodate the higher speeds.”

Richards also said that prevailing speeds on many Tennessee rural highways are already above the posted 55 mph speed limit. Raising speed limits on these highways may not change the prevailing speeds, provided police enforce those speed limits, he said.

“The safest condition is when speed limits encourage uniform speeds,” Richard said. “Setting speed limits too high or too low is counterproductive.”

Contact: Dr. Steve Richards (423-974-5255)

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