States consider more realistic highway speed regulations

Regulations regarding highway speed limits in the U.S. are changing, and route optimization software can help both fleet owners and drivers make the most of each individual shipment.

Safety should always be one of the top concerns in any transportation operation. Recent data compiled by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed speeding and aggressive driving is often a major factor in accidents and collisions on major roadways. In the past, this has led many state agencies to enforce limits on how fast vehicles can travel. As a result, the time it takes for businesses in the freight industry to deliver products through ground transportation has been largely at the mercy of the speed limits established in individual states. New trends in many states throughout the country may soon change this dynamic.

Taking a realistic perspective on traffic safety
In reality, traffic behavior on U.S. highways is much more nuanced, with drivers mostly using their own discretion to determine which speeds are safest depending on external factors such as weather, congestion or the condition of their own vehicles. Many state transportation agencies have caught on to these trends in recent years and have adjusted their regulations. According to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois will soon follow the lead of many other states around the country and increase the speed limit on many of its interstates and tollways to 70 mph. The measure, which will become effective on Jan. 1, 2014, comes after an extensive period of research into how people naturally operate their vehicles regardless of existing regulations. The Tribune cited reports conducted by the Illinois Tollway that found a large majority of drivers regularly exceed the current 55 mph speed limits by more than 11 mph. In fact, data collected in April, May and September of this year on those same tollways revealed as many as 98 percent of vehicles move at an average of 66 to 70 mph.

These trends, along with the realization that many drivers will also voluntarily reduce their speed in dangerous weather conditions, represent the major impetus behind the recent decision to raise the speed limit on certain interstates throughout Illinois. The NHTSA also found the number of speeding-related traffic fatalities decreased 5 percent between 2010 and 2011. This research has influenced many other states to take similar measures.

"The way they set speed limit is somewhat subjective and arbitrary," Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii who has studied highway safety, told the Tribune. "It's not an exact science."

Paving the way for greater operational efficiency
Jacksonville Business Journal, a news publication based in Jacksonville, Fla., said a group of state senators recently drafted a proposal that would increase the speed limit on an 800-mile stretch of highway between Pensacola and Key West, as well as other major roadways, from 70 mph to 75 mph. The maximum speed on many roads in Florida has been 70 mph since 1996. However, a sharp decline in collisions and fatalities has led many politicians and industry experts to consider the benefits of further increasing the limit.

"Allowing professionals to determine safe speeds based on the engineering standards of individual highways is simply common sense," state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, stated in a press release. "A five mile per hour increase is unlikely to have an impact on road safety, but we'll let the experts do their job."

As more states loosen the grip over traffic enforcement, fleet owners may have the opportunity to substantially enhance their own business operations. Time is money in the transportation industry, and the ability to deliver goods to customers in a reliable, safe and efficient manner will make all the difference in transforming a struggling enterprise into an industry competitor. These companies can further reap the benefits of faster highway speed limits by investing in direct route software that makes it easier to identify directions and delivery paths that make the most use of limited resources. Small and medium-sized enterprises often have to ship a large number of products with a small staff of available drivers. Optimizing time on the road can ultimately lead to a more productive operation.