Holiday fatalities down in Iowa despite new speed limit increase

| 7/11/2005

Despite a newly raised speed limit on interstate highways in the state, fatalities in Iowa over the Fourth of July holiday weekend were the lowest in 10 years, state officials said.

Jim Saunders, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said this year’s Independence Day weekend netted only one fatality accident, despite a speed limit increase from 65 mph to 70 mph.

“Any loss of life is tragic, but if the fatalities for the weekend stand at one or two, that’s pretty good,” Saunders told the Des Moines Register. “One (fatality) would be the lowest in 10 years.”

The one fatality that did occur between July 2 and July 4, Saunders said, wasn’t even on an interstate highway. A second fatal accident involved an all-terrain vehicle in a state park.

The lower death rate could have something to do with stepped-up enforcement in the state in anticipation of the added holiday traffic, as well as the new higher speed limit, which went into effect on July 1. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who signed the bill into law but has opposed higher speed limits in the past, said he would direct the Iowa State Patrol to strictly enforce the 70 mph limit.

“With strict enforcement, we shouldn’t see increased accidents,” he told The Associated Press.

During the four-day weekend, 2,204 tickets – up from 1,873 the previous year for the same time period – were issued. However, at least one officer said most motorists stuck to the new law.

“People did pretty well for the most part,” State Patrol Officer Mark Schumacher told KIMT-TV. “The average speed didn’t increase a great deal – a lot of people were running right at 70 mph.”