Increased Speed Limits: A Dangerous Trend?

June 8, 2013

It's a trend that has many in the trucking industry frightened: State lawmakers across the country have either already raised speed limits on some highways or are contemplating allowing vehicles to travel at higher rates of speed.

Here are some of the most recent developments in speed limit changes:

- The Texas Transportation Commission recently approved a speed limit of 85 mph for a 41-mile toll road several miles east of the crowded Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, making it the highest speed limit in the nation.

- The speed limit on most of Ohio's interstate highways will rise to 70 mph beginning July 1 under a new law signed by Gov. John Kasich.

- Illinois drivers soon could roll along rural interstates at 70 mph after House lawmakers approved a higher speed limit on nonurban highways on in late May, despite safety concerns and a possible veto showdown with the governor.

- An Oklahoma bill would increase speeds on turnpikes from 75 mph to 80 mph.

In Utah, a measure would expand the portion of Interstate 15 where speeds can reach 80 mph. It would also add stretches of Interstates 80 and 84.

- In Wyoming, the Senate voted to advance a bill to increase the speed limit for all vehicles on limited access roads from 65 mph to 70 mph.

- An Iowa bill would increase speeds to 60 mph on highways posted at 55 mph.

- Mississippi lawmakers are considering a bill to increase Interstate speeds to 75 mph – up from 70 mph.

- Two Connecticut bills would increase posted speeds on multi-lane, limited access highways to 75 mph – up from 65 mph. One bill would increase speeding fines by 15%.

- Multiple bills in New Hampshire would increase Interstate speeds by as much as 10 mph. The first bill would increase speeds from 65 mph to 70 mph on Interstate 93 from mile marker 45 to the Vermont border. The second bill would apply the change to all Interstates posted at 65 mph. It would also increase speeds to 60 mph on Interstates posted at 55 mph. One more bill would authorize 75 mph speeds on Interstates posted at 65 mph. Interstates posted at 55 mph would be increased to 60 mph.

- Maryland lawmakers are looking at multiple efforts to increase vehicle speeds. One bill would increase vehicle speeds from 65 mph to 70 mph on interstates, state expressways and some other highways. Vehicle speeds on the Intercounty Connector would also increase from 55 mph to 70 mph. Another bill would limit the 5 mph boost to Interstate 68.

- A bill introduced by Nevada state Senator Don Gustavson would allow the state Department of Transportation to increase the maximum speed limit in Nevada to 85 mph where the agency determines that speed is safe. On rural highways in Nevada, the top speed is 70 mph. On interstates it's 75.

Why are some in the trucking industry concerned? The increased use of speed limiters in trucks to keep fuel consumption down coupled with rising speed limits will effect cause a split speed differential in many states, even though trucks and cars are legally allowed to travel at the same rate of speed.

The American Trucking Assns. has urged the Texas Transportation Commission to reverse its decision to allow vehicles to travel 85 miles per hour on a privately managed stretch of State Highway 130 linking Austin and San Antonio.

In a controversial move last year, the Texas Transportation Commission recently approved a speed limit of 85 mph for a 41-mile toll road several miles east of the crowded Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, making it the highest speed limit in the nation.

The Texas Legislature approved 85-mph limits for some new highways last year. A strip of toll road running from Austin to Seguin, about 35 miles northeast of San Antonio, was the first to allow that speed when it opened last November.

ATA has been a vocal advocate for the use of speed limiters to regulate maximum truck speeds at 65 mph, but for states to promote greater highway safety by adopting maximum speed limits of 65 mph for all vehicles.

Not only does ATA want Texas halt plans to allow the 85-mph speed, the association also cautioned other states against following the Lone Star State's dangerous example.

"At the end of the day, excessive speed is the greatest threat to highway safety," said Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO. "And by giving motorists carte blanche to put the pedal to the metal, Texas is raising the risk of more crashes, as well as more severe crashes."

"Higher speeds dramatically increase the risks of a catastrophic crash. On today's busy and congested highways, it is simply unfathomable that a state would allow drivers to put themselves and others at risk by increasing speed limits to such excessive heights," Graves said.

"The state's obvious attempt to generate more traffic and greater profit from tolls for private investors, at the public's expense, highlights the trade-offs associated with relying too much on the private sector to finance highways. I would hope that Texas will quickly see the error in its policy and reverse course."

Some states, however, say they have justification for raising speed limits.

A study by the Utah Department of Transportation showed accidents decreased by between 11% and 20% when the speed limit was raised from 75 to 80 mph on some parts of the state's freeways.

The results of the three-year study may prompt state officials to up the speed limit to 80 mph on other stretches of highway. The study noted that portions of road that had the 80-mph limit saw average speeds increase of just 2 mph and concluded that drivers tend to comply more with higher speed limits, making for a safer road.

As a result of the study, the Utah government has now shown an interest in putting more 80 mph zones throughout the state, which UDOT officials say would be strategically picked out on stretches of road that are straight and provide a lower chance of accidents.

The state is also making the 80-mph speed limit permanent in two out of four of the "test zones" — stretches of road between Nephi and Cedar City, If the study finds similar results in the other two test areas, UDOT says the state will make those permanent in 2014 as well.

In response to the trend to increasing speed limits, leadership of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. said it is imperative for road safety that any changes made to driving speeds promote uniformity.

"If lawmakers choose to change speeds it is essential that the change allow all vehicles to travel at the same speed," OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. "Requiring trucks to drive at speeds slower than other vehicles does not promote safety. It does exactly the opposite by requiring vehicles to be constantly in conflict with each other."

OOIDA has been a long-time advocate for eliminating speed differentials between cars and trucks on the nation's highways.

Ten years ago OOIDA's Spencer testified before the Ohio State Senate on a policy then requiring trucks to drive at speeds 10 mph slower than other vehicles. Spencer said split speeds for cars and trucks does not promote safety on the highways it does exactly the opposite, requiring that vehicles be constantly in conflict with each other.

"Lane changes and passing are constantly required to avoid crashes," Spencer said. "While some may suggest that having slower speed limits for trucks can somehow promote safety, there is much research to suggest otherwise.

"By having one speed limit that all vehicles comply with, you minimize the need for passing, lane changes, tailgating and other maneuvers that create opportunities for drivers to make mistakes. This isn't physics or rocket science. It's simple common sense that highway engineers have known and followed for decades."

New heavy truck fuel economy standards could inadvertently lead to split speeds between trucks and autos if states continue to up speed limits, even if they don't limit speeds on trucks. Truck manufacturers have predicted that most long-haul tractors will need to be equipped with pre-set speed limiters in order for OEMs to meet fuel economy goals set by the feds in the not-too-distant future.

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