Although speed limits bring to mind the notion of public safety, they were formed in the 1970s to combat a gasoline shortage. In the 1980s the focus shifted to public safety while some speed limit regulation devolved back to states; the maximum speed on rural interstates could be raised to 65 mph. In 1995 and involving some controversy, Congress returned all speed limit authority back to the states. Analysis of the highway deaths per mile driven after the 1974 nationalization of the maximum highway speed indicates an initial greater decline in deaths than had been the trend, but the long-term decreasing trend reemerged following the shock. Dr. Yowell's research finds others reasons besides speed for the long-term trend of increased highway safety. (From 1968 to 1991, the fatality rate per 100 million declined by 63.2%.) Technical progress in car manufacturing, increased use of seat belts by drivers and passengers, an increase in the minimum legal drinking age, and the general maintenance of roads all affect this rate.
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The Review of Policy Research, published on behalf of the Policy Studies Organization and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, is an international peer-reviewed journal devoted to the dissemination of research and insightful commentary on the outcomes and consequences of policy change in domestic and comparative contexts.
Robert O. Yowell is an assistant professor of Political Science at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. His research agenda centers on Congress and interest groups.