SPECIAL REPORT: Oregon bill would widen gap between car and truck speeds

| 4/17/2007

Tuesday, April 17 , 2007 – An effort in the Oregon House would widen the speed gap between four-wheelers and big trucks to 15 mph on the state’s rural interstate highways.

Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, has offered a bill that would increase the speed limit for passenger vehicles from 65 mph to 70 mph along rural stretches of interstates. Truck traffic would continue to be restricted to the current 55 mph speed limit.

A 2005 law opened the door for passenger vehicle speeds to increase while leaving truck speeds the same. Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed the bill into law after a study conducted by the Transportation Commission advised against boosting the current speed limit for cars and trucks on rural interstates.

The study said that while it was reasonable to raise car limits to 70 mph, “the engineering analysis supports a speed limit of 60 mph for trucks and not a higher limit.” Because the two speeds were linked in the rule, the commission decided not to bump the limits.

Opponents say the state’s study is misleading.

“It looked at what speeds vehicles are running now. What that study more or less showed is that both car and truck drivers anticipated a 5-mph tolerance. That was reflected in their speeds,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line.

“What the study reflected is that while truckers might not have agreed with the state’s speed policy they were doing a pretty good job complying with it, regardless. Had there been uniform speed limits, they would have seen much closer to uniform speeds.”

Spencer pointed out that 40 states now have uniform speed limits for all vehicles using their highways. “The only speed limit policy that makes any sense is the kind that has all vehicles traveling at the same speed,” he said.

Oregon is the only state west of the Mississippi River with speed limits for cars below 70 mph. California is the only other state with truck speeds at 55 mph. Idaho, Montana and Texas limit trucks to 65 mph, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Oregon bill – HB3117 – is in the House Transportation Committee.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor