In 1995, highway speed limits increased from a nation-wide 55 mph to 65, 70 or 75 mph, depending on the state, and most Americans were thrilled. The obvious benefit of the change was people could legally get to where they wanted to go, but according to a new study, the downside has been an alarming increase in accidents and deaths.

The University of Illinois School of Public Health studied accidents from 1995 to 2005 to determine the impact on the speed increase on accidents. The study examined deaths and injuries in fatal car crashes on rural interstate highways, urban interstates and non-interstate road, and found the speed increase resulted in 2,545 deaths and an additional 36,582 injuries.

All told, the study found that deaths and injuries increased by 3.2% over the ten-year period, while rural road deaths increased by an alarming 9.1%. Lead researcher Lee S. Friedman says the easy way to solve the increases in deaths and injuries would be to drop the speed limit back to 55 mph, adding "Researchers have demonstrated that lower travel speeds and death tolls usually follow lowering of speed limits, and higher travel speeds and death tolls follow increases in speed limits."

Naturally, Friedman points out that the drop in speed would result in decreased fuel consumption and lower greenhouse gasses as well. Studies show that decreased speeds lead to higher volume capacity on freeways as well, as drivers require less distance between vehicles to safely drive.

Not all agree with Friedman's hypothesis, though. Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, says that while deaths will decrease with a lower speed limit, it'd also gum up everyone's schedule. Others point out that the bulk of the added deaths happened in areas where limits are 70 and 75 mph, and where the limits were 65, the impact was far less severe.

[Source: US News | Image Source: Ian Waldie/Getty]