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Did lawmakers accidentally make people ignore the speed limit?
You know that people ignore the speed limit. Ten minutes on any road in Illinois will show you that. On many roads, if you actually follow that posted limit, drivers will pass you or tailgate you the entire time.
Why is this? Why do people decide to ignore speed limits so often when they observe most other laws? After all, most people who would never break into a house or rob a store, who think of themselves as law-abiding citizens, still break the speed limit on a fairly regular basis.
One reason, per an economics professor from Purdue University, is that lawmakers showed them that speed limits were about money, not safety.
The change came in 1974. Before that, speed limits were tied to how fast people drove, with the aim at the 85th percentile. In short, they were set so that 15 percent of the vehicles were going faster than the “limit,” while the other 85 percent were at that limit or below it.
The alteration to the law in 1974 came from the Emergency Highway Conservation Act. That’s when states were told, at the height of the oil embargo, that they’d lose federal funding if they did not put limits at 55 mph. That law then came off the books when oil prices fell.
The professor says this showed people that the government actually expected them to break the limits and wasn’t focused on safety at all, but on the cost of fuel. As a result, people started to feel like it was fine to break the limit, and they still feel that way today.
Speeding does increase accident risks, though, no matter how changes to the law made people feel. Those who are injured by speeding drivers need to know their legal rights to seek financial compensation.
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