Why Do Automobiles Reach Speeds They Can’t Legally Hit?
The average speed limit in the United States is 70 miles per hour. But the average car can ride double the speed.
As of 2022, the fastest road-legal car, the SSC Tuatara, maxes out at 282.9 mph. The fastest posted speed limit in the country is on Texas State Highway 130 at 85 mph, over a 40-mile stretch. Which means the car can’t legally reach half of its maximum speed capability on America’s fastest road.
Speeding is a factor in over a quarter of all driving fatalities in the US. That amounts to 25 deaths per day in some years, piling up hundreds of lawsuits related to speeding accidents. Most modern cars are equipped with electronic stability control, blind spot detection, and driver assistance. Missing, however, is a speed limiter that electronically limits a car’s maximum speed. This is an option for some makers and models, but far from a legal requirement. Only Volvo, historically credited with the 3-point safety belt, has capped its cars’ speed at 112 mpg. Unfortunately, most speeding accidents aren’t recorded anywhere near that high anyways.
Mechanically, a stronger and faster engine has its arguments. For one, it can merge into highways safer and pass trucks smoother at a fast pace. Economically, a fast engine can save on fuel mileage, if it keeps a consistent pace. Still, 41 million speeding tickets issued for Americans every year suggests an appetite for simply going faster.
The US government has long been hesitant to interfere with the public’s access to fast cars, despite the countless campaigns against speeding. This stems from a mix of public discord on current speed limits and the vast influence the auto industry has on lawmakers, through lobbying and campaign contributions. After all, auto sales do make up a whopping 3.5% of the country’s GDP. In turn, there is no incentive for automakers to build safer speed-limiting vehicles.
In defiance of government inaction, safety advocates are focused on designing roads to deter people from pushing limits. With speeding more likely on wider roads, one idea is to reduce lane widths to 10 feet in cities. This narrows a driver’s tunnel of vision, causing them to slow down. There are also high-visibility crosswalks, street trees, and offset curb extensions called chicanes. The European Union recently ruled that all cars sold after May 2022 would have speed limiters. The technology, the Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), isn’t mechanically enforced, but it will warn drivers when they creep over the limit. Nevertheless, safety is growing as a top concern for auto consumers, which will push speeding into a main topic of discussion.