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Safety Advocates and Sheriff Oppose 75 on Highways And Higher Speeds Elsewhere

| December 20, 2013

The duel will be the featured cartoon of the coming legislative session.

The duel will be the featured cartoon of the coming legislative session.

Safety and consumer advocates want state lawmakers to put the brakes on a bipartisan measure that could allow 75 mph speed limits on some highways and also boost speeds on other roads.

Representatives from the National Safety Council and the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, along with Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel, said Thursday the proposal (SB 392) by Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, will make roads less safe as motorists further surpass speed limits that exceed their ability to safely operate vehicles.

“Raising the speed limit is essentially going to encourage people to drive faster,” John Ulczycki, vice president-of strategic initiatives with the National Safety Council, said during a news conference at the Florida Press Center. “They’re not just driving the speed limit, they will continue to drive 5 to 7 miles above the speed limit.”

Ulczycki projected that a 5 mph increase in the speed limit could result in an increase of 100 traffic fatalities a year on Florida roads.

Creel said a vehicle travels at least 220 feet in the two seconds it typically takes a motorist traveling 75 mph to respond to a problem and start to apply the brakes to take evasive action.

“Do you want to get on a rural stretch of road where the speed limit is now 70 mph and have somebody 25, 30 feet behind you wanting to go 75 or 80?” Creel asked.

The proposal by Brandes and Clemens would direct the state Department of Transportation to determine the safe minimum and maximum speed limits on all divided highways that have least four lanes.

The DOT would then be able to increase travel on the state’s “limited access highways” to 75 mph and raise the maximum posted limits on divided four-lane highways in sparsely populated rural areas from 65 mph to 70 mph. The DOT could also hike speeds by 5 mph, to 65 mph, on other roads they deem safe.

Florida’s highways have had a 70 mph maximum since 1996, the last time the speed limit was reviewed.

Just prior to the start of the news conference, Brandes and Clemens issued a joint statement with the National Motorists Association that said the legislative proposal is only to allow the DOT to determine if limits should be raised 5 miles per hour on certain roads.

“The data indicates that many drivers are already traveling at these speeds on highways and traffic research shows that traveling with the free flow of traffic is safer for the motoring public,” Brandes said in the release.

Clemens added that data he’s seen disputes assertions that increasing speeds will increase traffic fatalities.

“I understand that speeding tickets provide an important source of revenue for public safety, but supposed safety experts made the same claims when we repealed the national speed limit,” Clemens said in the release. “The data proves that raising the speed limit has not resulted in more fatalities.”

Ulczycki, who says that politics already won out over safety when highway limits were raised from 55 mph, said the push for even greater limits is from lawmakers nationwide for fewer laws and more convenience for people.

“I had one legislator tell me once that in his opinion, ‘safety is too much government,’ ” Ulczycki said.

The Waunakee, Wis.-based National Motorists Association, founded in 1982 to advocate against the a national maximum 55 mph speed limit, is a motorist group dedicated to the protection of motorists’ rights and freedoms.

In the release with Brandes and Clemens, the group claimed that research indicated there is a greater risk of traffic accidents from vehicles driving slower than the average free-flowing speed of traffic.

“Since 1995 speed limits have steadily increased on highways to 70, 75, or more. During that period of time the national highway fatality rate has fallen 36 percent. This is because free flowing traffic is safer,” John Bowman, the association’s communications director, said in the release. “Motorists generally drive at speeds they feel comfortable and safe at regardless of the posted speed limit. Adjusting speed limits to be more in line with actual driver behavior promotes safety.”

Ulczycki said fatalities have dropped in part because of better roads, heightened safety in the automotive industry and a reduction in miles traveled by motorists as the economy went into recession.

Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, added that it’s inevitable that higher speeds will result in more crashes, higher insurance rates and a reduction in fuel efficiency.

“The bill is simply a bad, bad idea,” Dartland said.

Raising speed limits above 70 mph, as 16 states have done for select roads since the national speed limit was lifted in 1995, has led to more deaths from speeding accidents as reaction times are reduced and the severity of injuries is made greater, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va.

A 2009 study by the American Journal of Public Health found a 3 percent increase in road fatalities attributed to higher speeds after the 1995 repeal of the national speed limit, with the increase growing to 9 percent on rural interstates with higher limits.

Also, in the decade after the speed limit was raised in Nevada and New Mexico from 65 mph to 75 mph on rural interstates, the proportion of passenger vehicles exceeding 80 mph tripled in Nevada and nearly tripled in New Mexico, according to the Insurance Institute.

The proposal by Brandes and Clemens will be considered during the 2014 legislative session. Currently, there is no House sponsor for the proposal.

–News Service of Florida

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12 Responses for “Safety Advocates and Sheriff Oppose 75 on Highways And Higher Speeds Elsewhere”

  1. John F. Pollinger says:

    While speed itself is not necessarily a cause of crashes, it DOES increase the severity of a crash when it happens. Your chances of surviving a crash at any speed above 75 mph is nearly zero.

    • The good safety records of roads posted at 80 mph in Texas and Utah shows the higher numbers painted on the signs (which have very little relationship to the travel speeds of the top half of the flow) are not unsafe.

      Also please note that a higher legal speed limit tends to draw more cars to the freeways where the fatality rate per mile traveled is only about half that of a surface highway.

      James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • The Federal Highway Administration notes that the “Interstate System actually has the best safety record of all roads and the lowest fatality rate per mile traveled.” In fact “deadly consequences of speeding on local and collector roads [are] dramatic. The speeding fatality rate for local roads is three times that for Interstates”

      Sure, Sheriff Creel advocates for easy enforcement; he’s no traffic engineer. Otherwise he’d tell you rural interstates only account for 5% of Florida’s traffic deaths. Florida’s interstates can and do handle 75 mph already; let’s see if the any “pro-ticket” advocates dare mention that!

      Observant motorists know why interstates are remarkably safer — they dramatically reduce the common causes of crashes: crossover conflicts at intersections, head-on crashes with opposing traffic in the next lane, and roadside hazards like trees, telephone poles, and sheer drop-offs.

      That’s why we build interstates: the “triple win” improved safety, travel times, and fuel efficiency by minimizing causes of crashes and delays.

      Data sources:
      Federal Highway Administration “Highway Statistics”, 2011, Tables FI-10 and FI-30
      Federal Highway Administration brochure: “Speeding Counts On All Roads”, Nov 2000

    • RE: “chances of surviving a crash at any speed above 75 mph is nearly zero” — simply can’t be true, otherwise every Indy crash wreck would be fatal. You’re probably thinking of the chances of when hitting an FIXED OBJECT like a tree or telephone pole or bridge abutment — a far more common event on conventional roads than on rural interstates where such roadside hazards are removed far from the road, or guardrails are deployed.

  2. Posting 75 on the rural Interstates will NOT increase travel speeds by 5 mph. More likely they might go up by 1 mph AND the speed variance will decrease so safety will increase.

    Those advising against are either 1) not informed about what actually happens with speed limit changes or 2) are in the revenue stream from speeding tickets issued mostly to safe drivers where the limit is set arbitrarily low to decrease safety and increase ticket revenue.

    Note the IIHS member insurance companies make MULTI-MILLIONS of dollars from under-posted limits. The IIHS lobbies heavily for inappropriate, less-safe, artificially-low posted limits to enrich their member companies. Asking the IIHS about speed limits is like asking the fox how the hens like the nightly visits that leave many of the hens mauled or dead. Can you say the word “biased”?

    Florida residents who want higher safety and oppose speed trap ticketing for revenue should call their state Representatives and Senators to ask them to strongly support SB392 and get it passed as soon as possible.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  3. m&m says:

    It should be – Big cars 100 mph Small cars do your best..

  4. Steve Wolfe says:

    When I saw this article I just thought, “Uh-oh, Florida drivers are already the worst I’ve ever seen.” I am cynical enough to believe that the maximum speed limit should be respective of the other state parameters for safety. There is no state safety inspection, and there are therefore lots of junk cars on the road that shouldn’t be. There are also lots of really terrible habits among drivers, like the open contest to see how small a margin you can create when you enter traffic. I think government might serve us a little better by improving safety standards before further opening the invitation to speed. Conservative though I may be, I see Florida government as a little too passive on safety standards.

  5. Ken Dodge says:

    As long as all motorists drive at the same speed, Increasing the speed limit(s) by 5, or even 10 mph will not increase the number of accidents The reality is that many will not drive at the increased speed level, thereby widening the variance of actual vehicle speeds. This unintended consequence should be taken into account and addressed before any limits are increased.

    • James C. Walker says:

      For Ken Dodge: You are correct that increasing the numbers painted on the signs won’t increase accidents, in part because those numbers have little relationship to actual travel speeds.

      This is why most posted limits should be set at the ACTUAL, CURRENT, speeds of travel with the limit set at the 85th percentile speed when traffic is free flowing under good conditions. If the 85th percentile speed is between 73 and 77, you post 75. If between 68 and 72, you post 70. If between 78 and 82, post 80. The speeds of the upper half of the flow will change by very little, if any. Some of the slower vehicles will speed up slightly if the higher speeds are no longer defined as criminal. This method tends to reduce speed variance and conflicts between vehicles. It also promotes better lane courtesy with faster cars to the left and slower ones to the right which reduces tailgating and aggressive driving.

      These principles have been known for 70+ years, it just takes legislatures that are willing to let engineers post the safest limits – NOT arbitrary limits imposed by unqualified legislators.

      James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  6. rhweir says:

    If they raise the speed limit, there will be more body bags. Regarding folks in Palm Coast who seem to split the difference, not change speed according to posted limits and go a universal 40 mph everywhere, the sheriff is writing many, many tickets on Forest Grove where it drops to 30 mph. It’s about time.

  7. For rhweir: The numbers on the signs have only a small effect on either actual travel speeds or crash rates. You tend to get the lowest crash rates when the limits are set at the 85th percentile speeds. People that object to establishing safe and realistic 85th percentile speed limits are either A) in the revenue stream from speed trap tickets or B) in need of studying the science of how to set the safest limits.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  8. Geezer says:

    What’s the rush to go nowhere?

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