What To Know About Speed Limits

Published on
March 10, 2023

If you like to drive fast, speed limits can be annoying, but they’re important for public safety. That said, they can sometimes be a bit vague and misleading so we created this brief guide to help you understand how speed limits work and how you can be a safer driver.

How are speed limits determined?

Given the link between speeding and car crashes, it’s no wonder that speed limits are posted all over the place. If you’re wondering why and what is the speed limit in a residential area, school zone, or work area, the answer is—somewhat unhelpfully—that it depends.

When considering how speed limits are determined, keep in mind that there are different types of speed limits, which can vary across and even within states.

Statutory speed limits

These are established by state legislatures and are for specific types of roads, such as urban streets, rural highways, and interstate highways. They vary from state to state, but in most cases they can be around 15-25 mph in residential areas, 50-55 mph on rural highways, and 70-80 mph on interstate highways.

“Special Conditions” speed limits

Work zone speed limits are set to protect workers and efficiently move traffic through the work zone. School zone speed limits are more obvious, since they are used specifically around schools during specific hours of the day (when kids are going to and from school).

Variable speed limits might be imposed during harsh weather, in an especially congested area, after an accident, or along a potentially dangerous section of a roadway, such as a sharp curve.

What is the 85th percentile? How State Legislatures assign Speed Limits

To give even more context, have you ever heard of the 85th percentile rule? It's a traffic engineering guideline used to set speed limits on roads. Basically, the rule says that the speed limit should be set at the speed that 85 percent of drivers are naturally driving at or below, during free-flowing traffic.

The idea behind the 85th percentile rule is that most drivers will drive at a safe and reasonable speed based on the road conditions, their vehicle, and their experience. By setting the speed limit at this speed, it's believed that more drivers will follow the limit and that it'll be more effective in improving safety for all drivers on the road.

However, not all states use the 85th percentile rule, and other factors like pedestrian safety, road conditions, and accident history may also be considered when setting speed limits. Yet, the 85th percentile rule is a common guideline used in many places and is considered a best practice for setting speed limits.

Limited access roads

Limited access roads are highways or expressways designed for high-speed travel between two points, with restricted access points through interchanges. They are not intended for local traffic, making them perfect for long-distance travel without interruptions.

It is important to follow the rules and regulations when driving on limited access roads to ensure safety. The speed limits are often higher than on other types of roads, ranging from 65 to 80 mph depending on the state. Always follow the posted speed limit and drive at a comfortable speed.

How many miles over the speed limit can you go?

If you’re wondering can you go 5 mph over the speed limit, the answer is that yes, you can, but you might get a ticket. Not only is getting a speeding ticket annoying and costly, but having a history of speeding is one of the ways car insurance companies define “high risk drivers”.

More important than the ticket is the dangerous impact of going 5 mph over the speed limit. One study found that an increase of 5 mph on freeways and highways was associated with an 8.5% increase in fatality rates and a 2.8% increase on other roads. In other words, going just another 5 miles over the speed limit could be far more dangerous on highways (where the speed limit tends to be higher) than on residential streets.

When does speeding become reckless driving?

Some experts and advocates say that the problem with U.S. speed limits is that people drive according to the way roads are built (long, straight, flat, and wide so they can accommodate high speeds) and that posted speed limits are sometimes so unrealistically low that they don’t have much impact on drivers’ behavior.

In fact, the Federal Highway Administration found that many state agencies set speed limits much lower than the speeds suggested by traffic engineers. Essentially, car accidents are more dangerous at higher speeds, but simply posting unrealistically low speed limits isn’t enough to discourage speeding.

There is no specific answer as to how much over the speed limit is reckless driving but, as you read above, speeding on highways and freeways often results in more fatalities because of the seriousness of the crash. According to a City Limits study, the likelihood of fatality increases exponentially with vehicle speed.

When hit by a driver going 23 mph, 10% of people will die. When hit by a driver going 32 mph, 25% of people will die. When hit by a driver going 50 mph, 75% of people will die. Essentially, speeding becomes increasingly reckless the faster you go.

Slowing down can make car crashes less likely to happen and less fatal. However, since you can’t control the weather or other people’s driving, consider these car accident preparation tips so that should an accident happen, you’re prepared.

How long do speeding tickets stay on your driving record?

If you’ve received a speeding ticket, you may be wondering how long it will stay on your driving record. In most states, speeding tickets will remain on your driving record for at least 3 years. However, the specific length of time can vary depending on the state you’re in and the seriousness of the offense.

In some cases, speeding tickets can stay on your record for up to 10 years. Having a history of speeding violations can impact your car insurance rates and could even lead to the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license. So, it’s important to follow the speed limit and avoid getting a ticket in the first place.

If you do receive a speeding ticket, you may be able to take a defensive driving course to have the ticket dismissed or to reduce the fine. Check with your local DMV to see if this is an option in your state. Remember, driving safely and following the speed limit is not only the law, but it’s also important for the safety of you and everyone else on the road.

When is it illegal to drive below the speed limit?

While it’s fairly obvious why it’s illegal to drive above the speed limit (even if you think the posted speed limit is unnecessarily low), you may never have thought about when it is illegal to drive below the speed limit.

Driving too slowly while on the road can also get you in a sticky situation. It’s illegal to drive below the speed limit if doing so disrupts the normal flow of traffic. For instance, if you’re driving 20 miles below the speed limit on the highway, drivers who are going the speed limit (or speeding) may have difficulty getting around you, which could cause a crash.

Which states have the highest Speed Limits?

If you’re wondering what state has the highest speed limit, we’ll give you a hint. Everything is bigger there, including the speed limits. That’s right, Texas is the only state clocking in with posted speed limits of up to 85mph in some areas.

Other states with the highest speed limits are Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, Soth Dakota, Nevada, Montana, and Idaho, which allow speeds up to 80 mph along some (but not all) interstates.

Whether you’re driving in the city, in the country, or along a highway, be mindful of the posted speed limit, but also understand that staying alert and always keeping your eyes on the road is crucial to keeping you safe.

If you like this post, don’t forget to read some of our other posts here.

About the Author: This article was crafted by the LOOP Marketing Team. Comprising of seasoned professionals with expertise in the insurance industry, our team is dedicated to providing readers with accurate, up-to-date, and valuable information. At LOOP, we're passionate about helping families navigate the world of car insurance, ensuring they get the best coverage at the most affordable rates. Learn more about our mission and values here.

For more insights on auto insurance and other related topics, visit our blog.

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