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Higher speed limits mean higher crashes? Not so, says BYU study

Higher speed limits mean higher crashes? Not so, says BYU study (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV)- In less than a week, people across Utah will hit the roads for the long holiday weekend.

Some new findings from Brigham Young University show which of those roads may be safer.

The big surprise deals with speed limits.

"We actually found that the 60, 65 speed limits were more risky in terms of crashes than the 70 mile-an-hour speed limits," said Matt Heaton, BYU professor of statistics. He led the study commissioned by the Federal Highway Administration.

Heaton's team looked at freeways and highways. Their findings are designed to help the government come up with best practices for building them.

"We just want to make the roads safer," said Heaton.

While Heaton and his team analyzed roads in Washington state, he said the conditions are similar to Utah and the findings are just as applicable to the Beehive state. Utah just raised its speed limits three years ago.

Heaton said his discovery about higher speed limits being safer held true even when factoring in heavy traffic. He said he believes this could help change the conversation.

"These higher speed limits aren't as risky as we once thought," said Heaton. "In fact they might be less risky than these lower speed limits."

The Utah Department of Transportation told 2News crashes across the state have risen in the last few years but mostly on in-town streets, not on the freeways.

UDOT officials had not seen Heaton's study Thursday afternoon but noted it is important to analyze actual travel speeds, not just speed limits.

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