Study advises against Oregon speed increase

| Thursday, August 19, 2004

State lawmakers recommended it, but drivers shouldn’t expect to be cleared for faster travel on Oregon’s freeways anytime soon.

An Oregon Department of Transportation study released Aug. 13 advises against boosting the current 55 mph speed limit for trucks and 65 mph limit for cars on rural interstates.

At issue is a state law that cuts in half the speed differential between cars and trucks.

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.”

During the 2003 legislative session, lawmakers authorized the Oregon Transportation Commission to raise the speed limit on certain sections of rural interstates to 65 mph for trucks and 70 mph for cars.

“That is the bugaboo for every one of these segments. It is not safe and reasonable for trucks to go 65,” David Thompson, Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman, told The Oregonian.

The state traffic engineer, however, would support 70 mph for cars if the legislation were changed to restrict trucks to 60 mph, Thompson said.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which sought the aid of professional truck drivers to influence lawmakers and Gov. Ted Kulongoski to endorse the legislation reducing the speed gap, said the study’s recommendation doesn’t hold water.

“Forty-two of the lower 48 states have truck speed limits of 65 mph, or higher. For Oregon’s engineering analysis to show that trucks aren’t capable of safely driving more than 60 mph flies in the face of virtually every highway safety analysis that’s ever been done,” Spencer said.

Spencer said, the overwhelming majority of highway safety analysis shows highways are safest when all vehicles are traveling at the same speed.

“By having one speed limit that all vehicles comply with you minimize the need for passing, lane changes, tailgating, and other maneuvers that create opportunities for drivers to make mistakes,” Spencer said. “This isn’t physics or rocket science. It’s simple common sense that highway engineers have known and followed for decades.

“While we would have preferred the legislation totally eliminate the split between cars and trucks, a 5 mph differential is better than 10.”

The latest highway fatality statistics, released earlier this month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seem to support OOIDA’s assertion that split speeds decrease highway safety.

In Oregon, highway fatalities jumped 17 percent in 2003. The state had the third highest percentage increase in total highway deaths in the United States last year.

Public hearings on the Oregon speed proposals are scheduled in Eugene, Grants Pass, Portland, The Dalles and LaGrande Aug. 23-27.

The commission plans to make a final decision on Sept. 30.