Drivers confused about speed limits: study

Thu Nov 6, 2008 3:36pm EST
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Efforts to manipulate driving behavior by setting speed limits artificially low may have had just the opposite effect, eroding respect for speed limits, a U.S. researcher reported on Thursday.

More than a third of the people surveyed believed it was safe to drive 20 miles an hour above posted speed limits, and 43 percent thought it was safe to drive up to 10 miles an hour over, said Fred Mannering of the Department of Civil Engineering and Economics and Indiana's Purdue University.

"Once you start going down the road of posting speed limits below where they should be, then there's a general disrespect," Mannering said in a telephone interview.

Mannering said the problem started in the 1970s, when U.S. speed limits were set at 55 miles an hour to save fuel, even though interstate highways are designed for 70 mile an hour speeds.

While the lower speed limit did save fuel -- and lives -- Mannering said his research suggests it also made many drivers cynical.

"Now I think a lot of people set the speed limits saying, 'It's safe to go 45 -- let's set the speed limit at 35'," he said.

Speed traps -- when police await for speeding drivers -- help, because drivers are not motivated by safety concerns or even by having been stopped in the past. But they will slow down if they believe they may get a ticket, Mannering said.

"The study was funded by federal agencies. They wanted to see if you actually set the speed limits as they should be set, to set it on engineering judgment, would people start complying?"

Mannering believes so.   Continued...

<p>The dashboard of a Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell test vehicle is seen in Los Angeles June 10, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>