By on March 17, 2010

Based on anonymous driving habit data from customers in 45 states, GPS navigation firm TomTom reckons that Americans tend to drive at about 70 MPH on the freeway, regardless of the posted speed limit. More specifically, most Americans tend to stay within a few miles per hour of the speed limit on interstate freeways. The WSJ [sub] reports that these findings are consistent with efforts to raise freeway speed limits around the country, as Virginia recently became the latest state to raise its freeway speed limit to 70 MPH or above. Naturally, there are still safety advocates still sticking to their “speed kills” talking points, but despite these state-by-state speed limit increases, America’s road fatalities per vehicle mile traveled has been dropping consistently. That Americans rarely drive over 70 MPH, even when limits are as high as 75 MPH, shows that motorists tend to find their natural comfort limit at that speed anyway. And the fact that states with higher freeway speeds tend to be large, sparsely-populated Western states indicates that motorists tend to vary their speed only slightly from the 70 MPH “state of nature” even when faced with longer distances and less traffic. [Hat Tip: ClutchCarGo]

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36 Comments on “America Lives At 70 Miles Per Hour...”


  • avatar
    educatordan

    Nice to see it confirmed but that’s almost a non-story. My father raised me at 5 to 10mph over the legal limit whenever he got outside of town/city limits. Our legal limit out here in NM on the interstates is between 70 n 75 MPH. You’ll be hard pressed to find anybody going less than 80.

  • avatar
    John R

    That’s about right. The speed limit on I-95 in DE is 55…HA! The staties will only pull you over unless you’re doing 80.

    If you try to do 55 on 95 or Rt 1 toward the DE/MD beaches you’ll set a record the number times you’ll get cut off.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      As an ex-Delawarean, I will attest to this. The problems arise when you start thinking that 15mph over the speed limit is normal and try that stuff in NJ or MD…

  • avatar
    CliffG

    As a long time Northwesterner, I am not surprised to see OR/WA as the slowest states in the union. The Oregon number is wrong however, the actual average speed is somewhere between 44-48, except for those random moments when they realize they are missing their exit and the speed goes something like this: 50-0-90… Of course WA/OR speeds are somewhat higher than claimed in some instances, i.e. near rush hour with heavy traffic moving at 75+ because the cops are too frightened to be on that side of the freeway and are on the other side trying to pick off the random 70′ers where traffic is lighter. Do not think I am kidding about this.

    It is always a relief to pass into the enlightened states of Idaho and Utah where 85mph is not considered something tantamount to refusing to recycle, in other words, absolutely horrific.

    • 0 avatar

      +1… Oregon’s worst feature is its drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      Joel

      Good god, yes. I moved to Mass from Portland for a few years, and when I moved back it was like everyone was in a hurry to not be in a hurry, regardless of lane, traffic, or anything. Though I will say that the drive from Portland south has been nicknamed the “Oregon Autobahn” for a reason. The downside is that this is the *only* freeway where people do go faster than a 3 legged horse.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised to see Massachusetts ranked as one of the “slower” states given that the prevailing speed on I-495, Rt. 128, etc usually seems to be north of 80 mph.

    • 0 avatar
      shabatski

      I travel I-495 daily (North West of Boston) and would set the average between 70-75mph. Of course during rush hour (if traffic permits) that average gets closer to 80mph.

  • avatar
    mrh1965

    As much as anything, I think what you have here is a map of traffic congestion by state. Northeastern states are slowest, not a shock since they will be more urban. Not enough rural areas to offset the slower city traffic. Meanwhile our intermountain friends are flying along, on average, due to the wide open spaces.

    Although I rarely exceed 70 around Houston I did enjoy legally driving 80 in west Texas last year.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m inclined to agree based on my experience. The traffic congestion in Massachusetts and New Jersey has to account for their being marked as “slowest”, because out on the open road, they’re anything but slow.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Regarding Massachutsetts being considered slower, I will propose the same theory that I am putting forward for Texas being an ‘average’ speed state:

    A great percentage of TomTom’s data is drawn from customers using their Nav systems in major cities. You’re more likely to need a nav system in a city than on say US10 which is straight as an arrow scout.
    Boston, like Dallas and Houston, is large enough and crowded enough to drag down the average for the whole state. Before people start chiming in that only freeway/interstates were considered in the study, I35,I30,I635,I40, and I75 all go through Dallas, and every one of them comes to a crawl for at least 2 hours per day.

    Anyhow, that’s MY theory. Better theories are welcome.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      I agree with your theory. Here in Pennsylvania, for example, the Pennsylvania Turnpike crosses the entire state, including suburban Philadelphia. Traffic in that area tends to be slower, as there is more congestion, and back-ups at the exit ramps are not uncommon.

      In the more rural central and western parts of the state, there is less congestion, and traffic tends to move at about 75 mph.

      It’s the same on I-81. The sections that go through Harrisburg are more congested and stop-and-go traffic is not uncommon during rush hour. Move farther south, and the typical speed is about 75 mph.

      I would also say that 70 mph is definitely on the slow side in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. We visited those states in the summer of 2008, and it wasn’t uncommon to be passed by vehicles traveling at 80+ mph.

    • 0 avatar
      ruckover

      Lokki, the most interesting part of US 10 is from Manitowoc to Ludinton. Don’t get me wrong, Walhalla, Nirvana, Junction City, and Plum City are all pretty exciting, but it is fun to be able to take the Carferry across Lake Michigan and relax for four hours. I do fear that the 20 knot average of the SS Badger lowers the average speed on 10, though.

  • avatar
    TR4

    “anonymous driving habit data from customers in 45 states”

    What does that mean? The speed people SAY they drive? People tend to understate their activities which may be considered bad or illegal.

    • 0 avatar
      kps

      TomTom’s GPS software has an option to anonymously upload the unit’s travel history when the user connects it for a software or map update. The purpose is to make routing decisions based on typical real-life conditions, rather than posted limits.

  • avatar
    Hank

    I know that math doesn’t lie (but those who use it often do)…but I just don’t believe the numbers for my native Texas. Are they including the time the TomTom was left on in the parking lot at the Galleria and not moving maybe? Or does TomTom sell to mainly Buick drivers?

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I usually drive at 140-150 Km/h… sometimes 160. I cover about 120 kms of highway everyday.

  • avatar

    Alabama is the redneck Autobahn. It is not unusual to drive for hours on Alabama’s Interstates without ever seeing a State Trooper. This is primarily because Alabama is mostly rural and the Highway Patrol has always been understaffed. Also, back in the 1990′s Alabama passed a law prohibiting cities with populations under 19,000 from running speed traps on the Interstates.

    Contrast this with Florida where you will see Troopers patroling the Interstates in almost every county you drive through, even in rural areas.

    Even in a lax enforcement state like Alabama I rarely drive more than 5 mph over the limit.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      That was my experinece travelling north out of Atlanta, Georgia. I came up over a rise doing 70, which was probably about the median speed, in a posted 55 zone, only to see a state trooper with a radar gun pointed in my direction or that of the car which was passing me. Didn’t seem to phase him one bit. Evidently, he was looking for cars traveling 90 mph or more.

  • avatar
    Ion

    I actually contributed to this, or atleast I think I did. My TomTom asked me if I was ok with it collecting data for short cuts and what not and I consented. Ironically NY’s average speed is what I usually tend to do when I’m in the middle lane.

  • avatar

    Illinois below average? Are you kidding me? In Chicago they change a tire at 80 mph.

    John

    • 0 avatar
      JuniorMint

      Let me guess…you’re from Wisconsin? :p

      Considering the near-constant traffic on our construction-infested highways, I’m surprised our average speed isn’t in the single digits. Or a negative.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    I think this study is seriously flawed for the reason others have pointed out: probably much of the data is gathered on congested urban freeways. In CA, everyone goes 80 on freeways posted at 70, traffic allowing. And even here in Oregon, left lane traffic will go exactly 75 (ten over) unless a bandit is holding it up.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      Maybe that is true for cars sporting Oregon license plates, but you dare not do anything if there’s a state trooper around and your car has California plates. Driving from California to Oregon to Idaho is quite an experience. Even though it is not a divided highway, I cruise though northeastern California at 70 mph with no fears except for the occasional farmer poking along in his pick-up. I hit the Oregon border and the gloom descends like a thick blanket of smog in the LA basin. As I approach Idaho my spirits begin to rise, and upon crossing the border so does my speed. Semis go 70+ on Idaho’s freeways. With the 75 mph speed limit once I get outside of Boise, I set my cruise at 80 and still don’t dare stay in the left hand lane because I would hold up traffic. Something is seriously wrong with the Oregon lawmakers that think 55 is the correct speed when traveling through the desolate stretches of straight black ribbon in Eastern Oregon.

    • 0 avatar
      Ion

      As I think about it I realize another flaw. If this data was collected from TomTom GPS’s, like the 2 my family and I own, then the likelihood is that those GPS’s were primarily in use to locate places. In that situation it’s unlikely you’ll be traveling at your regular speed as you wouldn’t want to miss an exit even if the GPS can re-route you.

      Granted though TomTom does offer live traffic conditions, but that requires a small subscription fee and a blue tooth phone with a data plan. So I think the percentage of people using a TomTom for this feature alone would be low.

    • 0 avatar
      H Man

      +1 Lumbergh21

      I love a lot about Oregon; the speed limits and drivers are two things I do NOT miss. (Colorado drivers are even worse, but not as slow.) I cruised for hours in Nevada going 90-100. No cars, let alone cops, in sight for minutes at a time. Cross an invisible line and ZANG! 55mph. It’s unreal. What’s worse is that Oregonians are conditioned to drive these godawful speeds, and tend to do so. Luckily passing is quite easy as visibility is mostly good, and traffic is mostly light, if any.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Some of this surely has to do with gearing and drivetrain/road noise. Drivers become uncomfortable hearing engine revs and wind noise. If we all drove Jags, the numbers would bias upwards.

    Just a guess, but these speeds will also vary according to the inflation-adjusted price of fuel. As fuel prices rise, buzzbox sales increase, and speeds go down… as well as deaths.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    Any Ohio driver is slower than the average rural Illinois driver. This study is bogus.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      +1 I think that’s pretty true. Born and raised in Ohio, too many Highway Patrolmen for the population. State gave a reward each year to the Highway Patrol Post that assisted the most drivers (no problem with that, that’s what they should do) and then an award for the post that ticked the most drivers (that made my blood boil).

      I feel like Ray Stevens wrote this song about Ohio’s Highway Patrol. http://www.getalyric.com/mp3/lyrics/songs/ray_stevens-322/surely_you_joust-1011/dudley_dorite_of_the_highway_patrol_-5888/

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      I have written here many times that Ohio is a cop ridden hell hole, avoid if you can. If you can’t, then stay under 70.

  • avatar

    Ditto what Alex Hannan and MRH1965 and PN say. At home, here, on the Mass Pike, there’s plenty of 75-80 traffic permitting. The 52-64 on that congestion map reflects congestion. And on America’s Main Street (the NJ tpk), which I drive at least four times a year, the boys are doing 80 traffic permitting.

    The slow numbers on that map reflect the fact that NJ and Mass are 1st and third most densely populated states respectively.

    I don’t know what’s going on in Oregon and Washington, though. Maybe Seattle has grown so quickly, and most of the cars are in that area, that if you average over all of them, you get the slows. But out on the palouse, I’m sure you can boogey.

  • avatar
    dhanson865

    As someone who used to drive from TN to IA and back I can say that ILLINOIS(IL) is “slower” on that map for one reason and one reason only. IL state troopers and IL police give more tickets and set better traps for radar/laser detectors than the other states I drove through. Thats:

    TN
    KY
    IN
    IL
    IA

    then the otherway.

    I’ll always drive slower in IL than in any other midwestern state just because of the propensity of ticket issuance in that state.

    Every state has it’s one or more spots where enforcement was higher but of all the states I’ve driven in IL stands out as consistently above average in issuing tickets.

    • 0 avatar
      Joel

      I briefly knew a guy that lived in southern Illinois, and he said that the cops on the interstate have a hair trigger to pull people over because that was the central drug trafficking route up to Chicago. So, anyone that had any car that looked like it had weight in any form would get extra scrutiny.

  • avatar
    mcs

    INRIX traffic might provide better data. It’s the service used by IPhones and Android based phones. A much larger sample. However, I only pull it up when I think I’m going to be dealing with bad traffic. Otherwise, I use a different app for navigation. If others use it the same way, it could skew the data.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    My visits to Germany have proven that my comfort speed is 100 mph. Fast enough to reward my hyper attentive driving style, slow enough to stay relaxed. Here in Colorado If I go 85 I am pretty much passing everybody, save for the occasional “sticky ” driver who does not want to pick their own speed, but would rather shadow me.

  • avatar
    ChevyIIfan

    I don’t tend to drive more than about 68-69, regardless of speed limit, as I find above 70 my fuel economy drops about 2 mpg for every 2 mph over I go. I just cruise about 68-69, regardless if the speed limit is 55, 60, 65, or 70, I am going 68-69.


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