Effort to boost speeds, fines advances in Iowa House

| 3/29/2005

An Iowa House panel has approved a bill that would permit drivers to drive 70 mph on rural interstate highways in the state.

The bill, which passed the House Appropriations Committee 14-11 March 28, would raise the 65 mph speed limit on Iowa's four-lane expressways and would nearly double fines and fees for speeding on roads posted at 55 mph and above.

Rep. Dave Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, told The Quad-City Times studies have shown that drivers travel interstate highways in Iowa at an average speed of 71 mph regardless if the posted speed limit is 65 or 70.

He discounts claims that higher speeds would lead to more traffic accidents on Iowa interstates. Tjepkes said a higher speed limit would help drivers maintain close to the same speed and reduce passing.

“That's where the accidents happen,” he told the newspaper.

Tjepkes, a former Iowa State Patrol trooper, said the stiffer fines would act as a deterrent to higher speeds.

Some of the revenue generated by higher fines would be used to help replace Iowa State Patrol cars during the next four years.

Gov. Tom Vilsack, who has opposed higher speed limits since he took office in 1999, said it's bad public policy to tie the issues together, but declined to say whether we would veto the bill in its current form.

“I don't think its good public policy to connect the two. I don't want people suggesting that the reason why we are taking a look at these issues is driven by revenue,” he told The Des Moines Register .

Vilsack said he does support higher speeding fines and he favors more money for trooper cars and updated equipment as a separate issue.

The bill also requires $7 million a year from increased fines and fees to go to the state's courts.

Count the Iowa Motor Truck Association among those in opposition to provisions in the bill.

The group's president, Scott Weiser, told Land Line he can't find anything in the bill he likes.

“The bill is very, very bad public policy. It's like, ‘Let me write a ticket for my new car.' It's not good for the patrol or anyone else involved,” Weiser said.

In addition, Weiser said he is working to persuade lawmakers to keep truck speeds at the current limit, which could lead to a split speed limit on portions of Interstates 80, 35 and 380.

“Our policy is to support 65 mph for trucks. It doesn't speak to anything else. Our board doesn't address speeds for other vehicles,” he said. Weiser also said a 70 mph truck speed limit would adversely affect fuel efficiency, maintenance and safety.

On the other hand, Todd Spencer, executive vice president for OOIDA, said any effort that would require trucks to drive at speeds slower than other vehicles does not promote safety on the highways.

“It does exactly the opposite by requiring that vehicles are constantly in conflict with each other. Lane changes and passing are constantly required to avoid crashes,” Spencer said.

“While some may suggest that having slower speed limits for trucks can somehow promote safety, there is much research to suggest otherwise. Forty states currently have uniform speed limits for all vehicles using their highways.”

HF826 is expected to come up for debate before the full House on March 31.