Montana bills could boost speed, maintain car-truck differential

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/14/2015

Multiple state lawmakers in Montana are pursuing changes to speed limits on the state’s fastest roadways – while maintaining a speed differential between cars and trucks.

Montana did not have a numerical speed limit on its interstates from 1995-1998. Instead, travelers were encouraged to maintain a “reasonable and prudent speed.” Today, state law permits car drivers to travel 75 mph on rural stretches of interstate while truck drivers are limited to 65 mph. All vehicles can travel 65 mph along urban stretches of interstate.

Rep. Mike Miller, R-Helmville, and Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, are behind bills to boost the speed limit for cars on rural stretches of interstate to at least 80 mph. However, Wittich favors leaving the speed posted for trucks at 65 mph. Miller’s proposed change could result in maintaining the 10-mph differential.

On the Senate side of the statehouse, Sens. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, and Jonathan Windy Box, D-Elder, are backing similar efforts.

The Treasure State is one of 16 states to authorize speeds of at least 75 mph. However, only Montana and Idaho allow cars to travel one speed while keeping trucks at a slower speed.

Officials at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association oppose efforts that maintain a differential in car and truck speeds. Nearly 900 of the Association’s members are residents of Montana, and thousands more members frequently travel the state’s highways.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s director of state legislative affairs, said that roadways are safer when all vehicles are permitted to travel at the same rate of speed.

“Differential speed limits create more interactions between cars and trucks, which can lead to an increase in the number and severity of accidents,” Matousek said. “They are also a contributing factor to increased congestion and carbon emissions, and increase inefficiencies with local, regional, and national goods movement.”

The bills can be considered during the session that began Jan. 5.

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