Arizona lawmaker pursues higher speeds

| 2/28/2005

Majority rules could soon determine the speed drivers in Arizona can travel on state roads and freeways.

A proposal approved Feb. 22 by the Senate Transportation Committee would require Arizona’s transportation director to set the speed limit on state highways at what 85 percent of the drivers are traveling at now. The 85th percentile rule is widely used and accepted among traffic engineers as a method for setting speed limits.

If most drivers are exceeding currently posted speeds, the limits would be raised.

The bill, offered by Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, covers multilane interstate highways, as well as all numbered two-lane roads throughout the state.

SB1324 is only one of three measures offered by Verschoor that gained approval by the panel – and now heads to the full Senate – that could result in higher speeds on state roads.

A second bill – SB1330 – would allow the Arizona Department of Transportation to increase speeds on rural highways beyond the current 75 mph limit.

And a third would lower the number of points added to people’s driving records when they are caught speeding. Under current law, a speeding ticket accumulates three points against a driver’s license; SB1321 would cut that to one.

With mandatory license suspension starting at 12 points, a chronic lead-footed driver could rack up 11 speeding tickets in a 12-month period without losing driving privileges.

Opponents of the legislative package include police departments and insurance companies. They say higher speeds will lead to more accidents.

But Verschoor said roadways are safer when people drive around the same speed.

“The dangerous speed is where we have speed differentiation,” he said, where some drivers are traveling at or below the posted limit while others are going with the flow of traffic at a higher speed.

“That’s where you have the highest opportunity for collisions,” Verschoor told the Arizona Daily Star. “You have people switching lanes a lot to get around to pass, you have dangerous passing, and every time one vehicle passes another vehicle that create a dangerous situation.”

ADOT says they already take into consideration the 85th percentile of speeds driven. They say traffic volume, roadway condition and crash history must also be considered to set safe speed limits.

But Verschoor told the newspaper he doesn’t believe the agency is giving the current practices proper weight.

A fourth bill offered by Verschoor would boost speed limits to 80 mph on highways. SB1329, however, was held by the transportation panel for further discussion.