White sign with It's no surprise that speed is a common factor in many New Mexico car accidents. Our Albuquerque personal injury lawyers often see "excessive speed" listed as a primary cause or contributing factor to our clients' police reports. And with higher speeds come more severe injuries, but the question some might ask is whether or not New Mexico's posted speed limits are causing more accidents.

Currently, New Mexico's 75 mph speed limits on certain freeways and interstates make us one of only sixteen states that allow drivers to travel at this rate of speed. We are still not one of the fastest states, however. Other states have posted speed limits of 80 mph on rural interstates and Texas has the highest posted speed limit in the country—85 mph on one stretch of state highway 130.

Do Higher Speed Limits Mean More Auto Accidents?

It's not easy to determine whether or not high-speed limits translate into more crashes. If we look at the number of crashes in an area of the state that posts 75 mph limits, it's likely there will be fewer crashes than on the high-traffic interstates with lower speed limits due to the simple fact that there are fewer vehicles on the 75 mph roads. However, does this tell the whole story?

Some studies show that when speed limits are raised, crash rates don’t necessarily increase significantly. The reason? Drivers are not likely to exceed their own personal comfort level with regard to how fast they drive, no matter what speed limit is posted.

However, other studies have shown that the number of fatal crashes is linked to speed limit. For example, in a report published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, one statistic points to the fact that when Congress established a nationwide maximum speed limit of 55 mph, deaths attributed to automobile accidents dropped by 16 percent. And specific to New Mexico is a report that saw fatal crashes increase throughout the state in 1987, when we became the first state to revert back to a 65 mph speed limit on rural highways.

Speed-Related Traffic Fatalities in Albuquerque 

It’s important to understand the difference between a high-posted speed limit and a driver who exceeds the speed limit. Any auto accident that occurs at a high rate of speed is more likely to cause serious injuries or death, but drivers who are exceeding the speed limit are more likely to lose control and crash. Speed limits are set with road design and traffic flow in mind and when those speeds are exceeded, crashes are more likely. According to data from 2016 analyzed by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA), exceeding the speed limit was a major contributor to traffic fatalities. Some of their key findings are as follows:

  • Of the 37,461 fatal crashes in 2016, speed was a factor in 27 percent of them.
  • Younger male drivers were more likely to be speeding at the time of a fatal crash; 32 percent of 15-20-year-old men and 31 percent of 21-24-year-old men involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to an average of 15 percent of older men.
  • 37 percent of all speeding drivers involved in fatal crashes were impaired by alcohol, compared to only 15 percent of non-speeding drivers.
  • 86 percent of speed-related fatalities occurred on non-interstate highways.
James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller
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