Officials look back at one year of new speed limit on interstate

Data shows slight increase in traffic fatalities from year ago

It’s been nearly a year now since Wisconsin increased its speed limit to 70 on the interstate.

In June, signs first appeared on 810 miles of interstate with the new 70 miles per hour designation.

With an estimated 38 million drivers hitting the road nationwide next weekend for Memorial Day, state officials are asking drivers to take it easy on the gas pedal.

Niki Schmidt is always on the go.

“Mostly going to work,” she said.

And that work, requires getting on the interstate.

“It’s quicker and easier than getting on the highways,” she said. “(There’s) less tractors that you get stuck behind.”

While her own speed hasn’t changed much since the speed limit increase, she has noticed a change on the roadways.

“I think everybody’s upped their speeds a little bit more once it jumped to 70. So they feel they can go closer to 80,” said Schmidt.

Officials can’t specifically point to the interstate, but said there have been a slight increase in general traffic fatalities.

According to statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, at this point there have been 189 traffic fatalities on all Wisconsin roads in 2016. That’s eight more than one year ago, and modestly higher than the four-year average.
“We can’t say specifically based on speed limit per se, but the overall trend for fatalities is on the upswing by all road types,” said David Pabst, director of the Bureau of Transportation Safety.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said more research needs to be done to know for sure if speed is a factor on the increase.

“It’s called a regression analysis, and they have to have at least three years of data to do that,” Pabst said.

Officials do notice a greater variety speeds on the roads, however, which can make the interstate less safe.

“You’ve got someone doing 60-65, you got some people doing 70, and you’ve got those going 75 and 80 because they want to take their cushion,” said Pabst.

Schmidt said the speed limit hasn’t changed her mind on the interstate.

“It feels about the same for me,” she said.

Regardless of what the data says, officials still urge drives to ease up on the gas pedal.

“All we know is that more speed more energy, makes crashes more violent,” said Pabst.

Officials said the data still shows that the majority of traffic fatalities still occur on side roads, and the interstate remains on the safest roadways for drivers.

State troopers said regardless of what speed drivers are going, they urge everyone to use their seat belt, and remain attentive while driving.