- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Traffic-related fatalities and injuries have jumped on highways with newly increased 75 mph speed limits, according to data from the state’s transportation department.

While the total number of crashes has remained steady, highways deaths increased 54 percent since 2012 on the seven highways with higher limits, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/1x6qVvr) Thursday.

Lawmakers in 2011 ditched the 70 mph limit on more than 800 miles of road, including I-135 north out of Wichita, and rural patches of I-35, I-70, U.S. 69 and I-470 near Topeka.

State officials said it’s too early to blame the speed limit change.

A higher speed limit on Kansas’ broad, well-kept roads “makes perfect sense,” said Overland Park’s Bobbi Caggianelli, who commutes daily to Topeka on I-70.

But national traffic safety experts said research shows higher speeds lead to more fatalities.

“Higher fatalities is what we would expect,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “This is moving in the direction that study after study shows is the result of raising the speed limit.”

Overall, 48 people were killed in 38 wrecks on those seven highways in the two years before the speed limit was raised in mid-2011. In the two years after the limit was raised, 74 people were killed in 59 wrecks.

I-35 had one of the greatest increases in deaths. Fatal wrecks doubled to 18 on I-35 in the two years after the speed limit increased compared with the two years before it was raised.

Still, it’s unclear whether higher speeds led to those wrecks, said Chris Herrick, planning director for the Kansas Department of Transportation. Seat belt use could be down, or there might be more drivers using their phones on the road.

Herrick said four or five years of data would better explain the increase.

“We just haven’t done enough study,” he said.

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Information from: Kansas City Star, http://www.kansascity.com

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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