Speed is a factor in more than half of all road accidents and one-third of all road fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So it’s common sense that we should reduce speed limits to save lives, right?
Not so fast. Traffic safety research shows mixed results for reducing speed limits because drivers don’t always behave as we expect.
Speed limits have become a hot topic in California because San Francisco recently passed a resolution to set a 20 mph maximum speed limit citywide. Will it work? It’s hard to say.
Let’s take a look at California’s speed laws and see what the research shows about lowering speed limits for driver and pedestrian safety.
Know the Speed Limits on California’s Highways and Roadways
In California, the maximum speed limit on most highways is 65 mph or 70 mph where posted. On two-lane, undivided highways, the speed limit is 55 mph unless posted otherwise.
Beyond these highway speed limits, the local roadway speed limits vary depending on the location, road conditions and type of vehicle. California drivers should slow down and proceed with caution in many situations:
- The speed limit in California’s business and residential districts is generally 25 mph unless signs indicate otherwise.
- In Los Angeles, the maximum speed limit on city streets is 25 mph.
- In San Francisco, the speed limit was recently lowered to 20 mph.
- Near California schools and areas where children are present, drivers shouldn’t exceed 25 mph.
- The speed limit for a “blind intersection” without a stop sign or clear sightlines is 15 mph.
- The speed limit within 100 feet of railroad tracks is 15 mph.
- When passing a trolley or streetcar, don’t exceed 10 mph.
- Reduce your speed and drive cautiously in bad weather or heavy traffic.
These are just some of the many rules California drivers must follow. As you can see, there’s a lot to remember about maintaining the right speed! It’s also important to know that California has a “Basic Speed Law” that states:
No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.
How Lower Speed Limits (Don’t) Make a Difference
With so many California laws about slowing down in certain conditions, it would seem that lower speeds must prevent accidents. And they do, generally speaking, but here’s the problem: Lowering the speed limit doesn’t automatically make people drive slower.
That’s why reducing speed limits on interstates, highways and busy city roads doesn’t always do much to lower the rates of car accidents and accident-related injuries. People drive fast anyway.
For example, look at a Boston traffic study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Boston lowered its city speed limit to 25 mph from 30 mph, added new speed limit signs and launched a public safety campaign to spread the message. However, traffic studies showed virtually no change in average travel speeds, despite rises in speeding citations and auto insurance premiums in Boston.
This phenomenon was, in part, why the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit was repealed in the late 1990s after a report to Congress entitled “Speed Doesn’t Kill.” The report found that lower speed limits aren’t the magic solution to reducing road deaths.
Cautious Driving Saves Lives, Especially for Pedestrians
What saves lives is driving more cautiously, which includes abiding by speed limits. When a driver is being cautious on a busy street, they’re more aware of small-size road users like pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders, and motorcyclists.
No state has more pedestrian deaths than California. Our state’s rate of pedestrian deaths has increased by about 25% since 2014, and in a typical year, more than 14,000 pedestrians are injured in California.
The California Office of Traffic Safety’s top tip for drivers to avoid hitting pedestrians is, “Don’t speed, follow the speed limit and never use your phone; always be cautious of your surroundings.” It also notes that by slowing down a little, you get a lot of reaction time.
A safety advocate from the nonprofit Walk San Francisco shared this key safety statistic about pedestrian accidents: “If you are hit by a vehicle traveling 20 miles per hour, you have a 90% chance of surviving. But, if that vehicle is going 40 mph, which I think to most people doesn’t even sound that fast, you have a 20% chance of survival.”
So please follow the speed limit and keep an eye out for pedestrians on California’s roads. And if you ever find yourself severely injured in a pedestrian accident or car accident, your friends at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers are here to help you handle what comes next.
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After an injury, contact the attorneys at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers. We handle many areas of the law, including pedestrian and car accidents that involve speeding. We believe you should be able to focus on recovering while we handle the legal details.
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