Some fear Iowa will see a sharp increase in deaths after July first when the interstate speed limit is raised from 65 to 70 miles an hour. Jeff Runge, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says it’s hard to predict how the Hawkeye State’s traffic death toll might be effected. “The issue is really enforcement. If you raise a speed limit five miles an hour, do people get the message that they can now go ten or 15 miles an hour higher than the speed limit? If the speed limit that is set is actually enforced, there should be a minimal impact on safety,” he says. “Our data, our history though tells us otherwise.” Runge says a national example from a decade ago might spell more deaths for Iowa once the speed limit goes to 70. In 1995, when the national speed limit was raised, the fatality rate did go up, though Runge says seat belt use was much lower then. He says “People don’t behave. They do not drive the speed limit, even if it was going from 55 to 65, now they go 70 or 75.” Runge says he’ll encourage Iowa police officers to vigilantly enforce the 70-mile an hour limit when it takes effect. Last year was a record year for traffic deaths in Iowa — the record being a good thing — as it was the lowest number of deaths since the World War II era. The state D-O-T says 390 people died on Iowa’s roads in 2004, the first time the statewide death toll was below 400 since 1945.
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