After repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit Law, states were allowed to set individual speed limits on their interstate roads. Several states opted for a uniform speed limit while others implemented differential speed limits. The current speed limit on Indiana rural freeways limits speed of passenger cars to 70 mph and restricts to 65 mph speed of vehicles with a gross weight of 26,000 pounds or more. Indiana’s speed limit on urban freeways is mostly 55 mph, but varies from 50 mph on certain downtown sections to 65 mph on some suburban sections. Previous studies comparing uniform and differential speed limit settings as to safety and mobility produced inconclusive or conflicting results.

This study evaluates the safety and mobility effects of alternative speed limit scenarios on Indiana interstate freeways. Differences in travel time, vehicle operation, and traffic safety were used to compare the speed-limit scenarios. The effect of speed limit was evaluated in hourly periods. The traffic conditions in these periods were classified as uncongested, intermediate, and congested and the speed limit effects were analyzed in relation to these conditions. Rural and urban freeways were analyzed separately and distinct speed models were developed for cars and trucks. Safety was estimated by probability of crash and the conditional probability of crash injury severity.

Speed limit was found to affect mobility and safety mostly in non-congested traffic conditions, while no significant effects were found in congested conditions. A limited effect was detected in intermediate traffic conditions on rural freeways. Results indicate that replacing the differential 70/65 mph speed limit on Indiana rural roads with the uniform speed limit of 70 mph may be beneficial for both safety and mobility. Increasing speed limits on urban interstates is confirmed to be beneficial for mobility but detrimental to safety.

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speed limits, differential speed limits, urban freeways, rural freeways, traffic conditions, statistical simulation, economic analysis

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Performing Organization

Joint Transportation Research Program

Publisher Place

Purdue University

Date of this Version