Drivers on Iowa’s rural interstates would legally be able to drive 70 mph under a bill that squeaked through the state House Thursday, March 31. In exchange, there could be a heftier price to pay if the new limits are exceeded.
The vote was 51-49, with all but one Republican voting in favor of increasing the speed limit 5 mph from 65 mph on Iowa’s four-lane expressways and all but one Democrat voting against.
Under the bill, fines and fees for speeding on roads posted at 55 mph and above would nearly double. Some of the revenue generated would be used to help replace Iowa State Patrol cars during the next four years.
The court system would get $7 million a year from the additional fines and fees.
Opponents of the measure said the higher limit would lead to more accidents. Supporters said the measure was about safety – ensuring more vehicles on the road travel at similar speeds.
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.
The bill – HF826 – now heads to the Senate, where it is sure to face an uphill battle. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs told the newspaper he expects it to be defeated in a 30-20 vote.
One group sure to ask senators to vote against the bill in its current form is the Iowa Motor Truck Association.
The group’s president, Scott Weiser, earlier this week 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.”
If the bill somehow passes the Senate, it will go to Gov. Tom Vilsack’s desk, where it will face a likely veto.
Vilsack, a Democrat, reiterated Monday that he disagrees with combining a speed-limit increase with funding courts and state patrol vehicles.
“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.
--By Keith Goble, state legislative editor