State Watch
Five states pursue speed changes

By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Truckers welcome the action at statehouses in Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Maine and California to alter speed limits. OOIDA leadership says it is imperative for road safety that any changes made to driving speeds either eliminate or reduce speed differentials.

“If lawmakers choose to change speeds, it is essential that the change allow all vehicles to travel at the same speed, or as uniformly as possible,” 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.”

A new Kansas law authorizes speeds for all vehicles to be increased from 70 mph to 75 mph on rural stretches of divided four-lane highways as early as July 1.   

The change, which was signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback, is intended to make Kansas more competitive with nearby states.

Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, said he believes the higher limit is good for the state’s economy and for truckers. He pointed out that 13 western states, including neighboring Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma, already have a 75 mph limit.

“The higher limit could make Kansas more competitive as a primary route for truckers, as well as vacationers,” Kleeb said.

He also said it will make travel safer.

“We have a lot of people who want to drive 75. It is a natural speed limit in a lot of people’s minds. This would bring a lot of the slower drivers up to 75, which would create an overall safety enhancement,” he said.

KDOT is working on identifying portions of highway that will accommodate the higher speed limit. Spokesman Steve Swartz said the department is taking into consideration traffic volumes, crash rates, and hills and curves on the 1,060 miles of highways eligible.

The Kansas Turnpike Authority can also decide to increase speeds on the turnpike.

To the east, Illinois lawmakers have sent a bill to the governor to authorize uniform speeds on more roadways in the state.

In 2009, Gov. Quinn signed into law a bill authorizing trucks to travel the same speed as smaller vehicles on rural, interstate highways. This year’s version includes U.S. and state highways – outside of Chicago and the five surrounding “collar” counties – where all vehicles can travel 65 mph.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, sponsor of the 2009 law, said the issue was brought back to the statehouse this year to make the change more far-reaching.

“After I passed that initial legislation, I went home to my district and realized there is a divided highway that runs through the heart of my district that wasn’t included in the legislation,” Sullivan said. “That’s when I decided we need to come back and work on this some more.”

OOIDA’s Spencer said the 2009 law was a major step toward improving safety on Illinois roadways. This year’s version moves the state closer to the goal of uniform speeds on all roadways in the state.

“There is no scenario where a policy to set different speed limits would make any safety sense,” Spencer said.

A Texas bill would allow all vehicles to travel at the same speed – night and day. State law now authorizes drivers to travel 70 mph during the day along most rural highways. The speed limit drops to 65 mph at night.

Sections of Interstate 10 and Interstate 20 in west Texas are posted at 80 mph during the day for motorists while trucks are limited to 70 mph. Speeds for all vehicles are lowered to 65 mph at night.

The bill, which is halfway through the Legislature, would increase the speed limit on most rural highways to 75 mph day and night – as long as state studies deem it safe. In addition, any speed differential between cars and trucks would be eliminated.

The 80 mph speed limit in west Texas would also apply to all vehicles 24 hours a day.

Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, said it is time to make a change because the slower speeds are outdated. He pointed out that Texas is the lone state in the country with slower nighttime speed limits.

“This is a leftover from the past. Every other state has abolished slower nighttime speed limits. It’s obviously not a safety concern,” Elkins said.

Another benefit to the change noted by Elkins is that the 75 mph limit would help truckers move goods in a more efficient manner across the state. In the interest of safety, Elkins also said it is important for trucks to be included in the speed increase.

“Everybody should be able to drive the same speed. When you have trucks driving a different speed, it creates a hazard,” he said.

Maine lawmakers are moving forward with a bill to increase the speed limit from 65 mph to 75 mph along the northernmost stretch of Interstate 95.

If approved, the state DOT would be authorized to increase speeds along 91 miles of the highway that links Old Town and Houlton.

Rep. Alexander Willette, R-Mapleton, said MaineDOT supports the bill because vehicles traveling along the affected stretch of I-95 are already averaging around 75 mph. The governor’s office has also spoken in favor of the bill.

Willette said the change would facilitate the flow of goods moving north and south in the state.

“It helps people get from point A to point B a little bit faster,” he said.

In California, a bill would boost truck speed limits to as much as 65 mph on a stretch of Interstate 5 in northern California. Currently, smaller vehicles are allowed to drive as fast as 70 mph while trucks are limited to 55 mph along the 120-mile section stretching from the Sacramento area to near Redding. 

Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Butte, said the change would more closely reflect the rate of speed that traffic is traveling in the area.

“We receive many reports of frustration with the differentiation being 10 to 15 mph between cars and trucks,” LaMalfa told lawmakers during recent discussion on the bill. “We are looking for a more consistent flow of traffic with cars and trucks.”

Spencer said it is encouraging to see the sentiments of lawmakers like LaMalfa winning more favor in statehouses that have long opposed speed uniformity. LL