Columns

Don't Raise Speed Limits

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: December 20, 2013 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ

A pair of senators want to turn the family SUV into a mini bullet train. At least, that's how legislation proposed by Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth feels -- even if they only want to step up the highway speed limits 5 more miles per hour.

Count me among those who oppose it.

I was also against the decision in 1986 that sent the speed limit from 55 to 65 mph. Back then I based my outrage on hypocrisy. The speed limit thing came at about the same time seat belts were forced on us. Think about it: Big Brother wants to save my life with a seat belt but he gives my lead foot a wink and a green flag? It made no more sense 28 years ago than it does now.

Now, I'm no angel on the open road, I admit it. I've gone to Defensive Driving School more times than I've visited Walt Disney World. But statistics don't lie. The higher the speed limit, the more drivers and passengers we scrape off our roads.

And you know what? Every time the speed limit goes up, I speed accordingly -- and I'll bet you do, too. Ever since the limit rose from 65 to 70 on major highways, I lock in my cruise control at 79. The Florida Highway Patrol usually -- not always, but usually -- gives motorists a pass if they keep their speeding under double figures.

You know as sure as night follows day, if the limit rises to 75 on motorways, the driving norm will rise at least to 84 mph. Is that really safe? Really? I'm thinking about the tiny cars that look like roller skates, run on batteries and may not be able to top out at the minimum speed. If this bill passes, maybe those folks should bring their wills up to date. Then there's Florida's elderly drivers with their declining vision and reaction time. Not to mention the increasing number of vehicles carrying dangerous cargo, the road ragers, the dozy drivers, the amateur behind-the-wheel texters, the drunk and otherwise high drivers.

So, you think five more miles per hour isn't going to hurt? Ask our first responders.

“I spent 30 years watching people die on the roads, and I can’t support anything that would add to that sad body count,” added Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel, who served 30 years as a Florida Highway Patrol trooper. “This proposal is a bad idea that would be a dangerous law.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates the economic cost to society for speeding-related crashes is $40.4 billion a year, $76,865 per minute, or $1,281 every second.

The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies reported in 2006 that increasing the speed limit from 55 to 65 back in '86 increased the probability of a fatal crash by 24 percent; advancing it from 65 to 75, the study said, would increase the likelihood by 12 percent.

Increase the speed limit by 5 mph and it won't be just the speed limit that goes up. Car insurance rates will shoot up, too. What a gift from the Florida Legislature. Say thank you, insurance industry.

If the bill is passed, the Florida Department of Transportation will study its roadways and decide on the safe max and minimum speeds. Then the agency can raise the limit to 75 mph along highways that currently are posted at 70 mph.

We're told most of these include long stretches of interstates 10, 75 and 95, and parts of Florida's Turnpike.

The limit will go from 65 mph to 70 mph along other roadways outside of an urban area of 5,000 or more people -- roads with a total of at least four lanes divided by a median strip.

The last 5 mph added to Florida highway speed limits came in 1996, giving us the 70 mph maximum we have today. 

Traffically speaking,  the trouble with Florida is, it's not Utah. In Utah, it's a kind of howdy-pardner-go-ahead-and-cowboy-it-up attitude. With 2.8 million people, 41st most densely populated state, there are boonies aplenty -- big, empty roads and wide-open spaces. Hence, the middle-of-nowhere 80-mph speed limit. But in Florida -- home to 19 million not counting bad-driving tourists -- you're looking at the eighth most densely populated state.

Here's a frightening factoid for you: A 2012 study by Movoto and Allstate Insurance Company, basing results on a variety of factors, concluded that Florida is home to three of the four U.S. cities with the worst drivers: Miami, Hialeah and Tampa.

I fear this legislation could pass. I fear it because I've heard more than one legislator moan about the long, slow commute every weekend between "inconvenient" Tallahassee and home. This is going to be a popular bill all over town. I can picture lawmakers rationalizing it into a real, live happening thing.

Among those already raising concerns is the Virginia-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The organization's spokesman, Russ Rader, said common sense will dictate that higher speeds will lead to more crashes because drivers have a shorter time to react.

"There is no question that raising the speed limits is politically popular, but there is always a safety downside. It's just physics," Rader said.

“We’re doing better and better keeping people alive at current speeds. It’s just inevitable that higher speeds would mean more crashes,” said Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast. “It’s a bad idea from a safety standpoint, and that problem is made even worse when you consider the impact to consumers of higher insurance rates, reduced fuel efficiency and other societal costs.”

Legislators should remember their pledge to keep the public safe first. Frankly, killing this legislation is just common sense.  

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. 


Comments (6)

Victor Smith
8:27PM APR 14TH 2014
I have written to the Lee County News Press supporting your view fully.
Who do you think is really behind this Bill? and for what motivation? Should we "cherchez d'argent"????
P.S. Curt your reasoning is flawed suggest you reexamine it.
William
12:34AM DEC 21ST 2013
Cars with full speed range adaptive cruise control are able to bring a car to a full stop, and resume. You can buy a car today equipped with one of these systems; and as they become more widely available, the probability of collision will be greatly reduced.
Curt Kinder
10:52PM DEC 20TH 2013
This move, implemented with reasonable prudence by FDOT, would bring Florida speed limits closer to the pace set by the majority of safe and reasonable drivers. This concept is sometimes referred to as the 85th percentile rule. This has a beneficial effect of harmonizing vehicle speeds and reducing dangerous tailgating and lane changes.


The premise that most drivers automatically exceed posted limits by 10-15 mph is not supported by the facts, i.e. speed studies from states with 75-80 mph limits. I'm old enough to have driven in Montana during a time when there were no daytime speed limits. Most drivers chose to operate at 65-70 mph on rural two lane roads and 75-80 on interstate-class highways.

A closer look reveals most opponents of reasonable (85th percentile rule) speed limits fall into two camps:

1) Environmentalists - this bunch hates cars, so opposes any change that makes cars more convenient and attractive. Their opposition is based on political views unrelated to highway safety so should be ignored in the context of highway safety.

2) Those with financial connections to the automobile insurance industry. A huge portion of insurance industry profits arise from drivers license point surcharges, and a majority of those are linked to speeding infractions. Raising limits to prevailing speeds would kill that cash cow, worth billions nationwide, so we'll always have insurance industry opposition to safe and reasonable speed limits. Russ Rader is paid to maintain the status quo. Disregard him and the rest of them.

The system we have in place now causes the vast majority of drivers to be law-breakers. Almost every otherwise law-abiding driver can be arbitrarily cited by law enforcement, charged hundreds for the citation and thousands in surcharges. This breeds contempt for the law, disrespect for law enforcement officers (of which I am one) and misdirects law enforcement resources AWAY from rather than toward highway safety.

If you get cut off, tailgated or otherwise endangered by an unsafe driver, you wonder "where's a cop when you really need one?!" Unfortunately, the answer to that question is often : "Under a bridge somewhere running radar..."
leviticus
7:12PM DEC 20TH 2013
You sir are an IDIOT!
Ed Vossen
10:48AM DEC 20TH 2013
Can just see some moron driving the wrong way at 83MPH on the FL Tkpe. Talk about road kill!
RepublicanConscience
9:01AM DEC 20TH 2013
Have you ever noticed that in a serious fatal accident there is almost always a pick-up truck. Pick-up trucks are not as safe for steering, handling, and braking at high speeds as passenger cars. Want to make roads safe? Make pick-up trucks safer to drive.

Leave a Comment on This Story

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.