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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s caution in raising interstate speed limits is paying off, a University of Tennessee transportation specialist said Tuesday.

 Dr. Steve Richards said state traffic deaths dropped 48 to 1,191 in 1997 — the second straight annual decline — despite the interstate speed limit rising in 1995 from 55 to 65 miles an hour.

 Some states have seen more traffic deaths with higher speeds. Georgia highway fatalities increased 90 to 1,582 in 1996 after interstate speeds were raised to 70 mph, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

 Richards said Tennessee’s decision to increase speed limits only to 65 mph and only in certain areas is a factor in the drop in Tennessee traffic deaths.

 “It (fewer fatalities) shows that Tennessee’s decision to not go to a 70 mph speed limit is paying off in terms of safety statistics,” Richards said.

 Richards also cited stronger enforcement, safer vehicles, and better motorist awareness for the decline in Tennessee traffic deaths.

 The drop is even more impressive because the rate of seatbelt usage in Tennessee has been flat in recent years, he said.

 “It is very encouraging to see this improvement in spite of an increase in speed limits and other factors which some believed could have had a more adverse effect on highway safety,” Richards said.


 Contact: Dr. Steve Richards (423-974-5255)