Idaho one step away from faster speeds, continued differential

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/13/2014

A bill on its way to the Idaho governor’s desk could soon result in faster speeds in certain areas while maintaining a speed differential.

Idaho law authorizes motorists to travel 75 mph on rural interstates. In 1998, large truck speeds were dropped from 75 mph to 65 mph. Speeds are 65 mph for all vehicles on state highways.

House lawmakers voted 34-31 on Tuesday, March 11, to approve a bill that is touted to improve safety. S1284 would require engineering studies to be done and the Idaho Transportation Department to make a final decision about whether highways could handle the higher speeds, up to 70 mph on state highways and 80 mph on interstates.

However, truck speeds on affected stretches of interstates could continue to be 10 mph slower.

“The bill maintains the 10 mph differential for cars and trucks that we have today,” Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, told House lawmakers during floor discussion.

The bill now moves to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk. Senate lawmakers approved the bill last month on a 30-4 vote.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is opposed to speed differentials. The Association encourages Idaho truckers to contact the governor to let him know that the only speed limit policy that makes sense is to have all vehicles traveling at or near the same speed to minimize interaction between vehicles.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said that requiring trucks to drive at speeds slower than other vehicles does not promote safety. He said it does exactly the opposite by requiring vehicles to be constantly in conflict with each other.

Addressing concerns about higher speeds, Gibbs said that most motorists would continue to drive at or near the same speed they do now.

Gibbs shared statistics from across the state line in Utah that show most drivers on test sections of I-15 posted at 80 mph since 2009 now drive between 83 and 85 mph – up from between 81 and 85 mph before the change.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said during Senate floor discussion that Utah officials found no increase in accidents over a three-year time period along the stretch of interstate.

“It’s my understanding their data showed a slight drop in crash rates,” Davis said. “They wonder if it’s because there’s less variation among vehicles traveling in close proximity to each other.”

However, Utah and Idaho are not an apples-to-apples comparison. Spencer points out that the big difference between the two states is Utah allows trucks to travel at the same speed as smaller vehicles.

He said that’s an important distinction worth pointing out to the governor who is hopeful for similar results.

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