Effort to boost speeds rolls on in Indiana

| 4/4/2005

An Indiana House panel has advanced a measure to increase the speed limit on several highways in the state.

The House Public Policy and Veterans Affairs Committee voted 7-2 Wednesday, March 30, to approve a bill that would raise the speed limit to 65 mph for large trucks and 70 mph for all other vehicles on the Indiana Toll Road and interstates outside areas with populations of at least 50,000.

SB217, which now heads to the full House for further consideration, also would increase speeds on other four-lane divided highways for all vehicles to 60 mph.

Current limits are 60 mph for trucks and 65 mph for cars on rural interstates and 55 mph on other four-lane roads for all vehicles.

The four-lane highway provision is intended to target those stretches of highway with design features similar to those of an interstate, such as grade-separated interchanges and wide lanes designed for higher speeds.

It was added Wednesday after the panel stripped the speed limit language from a separate bill – SB127 – and replaced it with language to mandate statewide observance of daylight-saving time. No county would change its current time zone.

Gov. Mitch Daniels would be urged to petition the U.S. Department of Transportation to hold hearings to determine which time zone works better for residents in the state.

Another provision added to SB217, sponsored by Sen. Greg Server, R-Evansville, would boost speeds from 55 mph to 65 mph on four stretches of road totaling about 50 miles.

The affected stretches would be U.S. 20 from the intersection of U.S. 20 and County Road 17 in Elkhart County to the intersection of U.S. 20 and U.S. 31 in St. Joseph County; and U.S. 31 from the intersection of U.S. 31 and U.S. 20 in St. Joseph County to the boundary line between Indiana and Michigan.

If signed into law, the Indiana State Police would be responsible for tracking traffic fatalities so lawmakers will have data to help them evaluate the measure's effect on highway deaths.

Also on Wednesday, lawmakers added a provision to the bill that would toughen penalties for road rage.

It would create a specific charge for aggressive driving for motorists who have the intent to harass or intimidate another person in a way that risks property damage or bodily injury.

Such acts as honking your horn, tailgating and flashing headlights while driving could result in up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Violators could face felony charges if they injure or kill someone.

If approved by the full House, Server's bill would head back to the Senate for approval of House changes before it could go to the governor's desk.

Supporters of the proposals argue better-designed vehicles and roads justify higher limits. The intent, they say, is simply to raise limits to the actual speed at which drivers are traveling.

“With new vehicle and road designs, we can travel at higher speeds,” Sen. Marvin Riegsecker, R-Goshen, told The Indianapolis Star .

Todd Spencer, executive vice president for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said lawmakers are missing a greater opportunity to do away with split speeds on interstates.

“One of the main reasons highway safety has improved even as states nationwide increase speed limits is because higher speed limits tend to eliminate or minimize speed variances that are often key contributors to accidents,” Spencer said. “It makes sense now for lawmakers to use this legislation as an opportunity to once and for all establish uniform speed limits.”

Spencer says it is important that Indiana truckers communicate to their elected officials that uniform speeds are safer for all drivers.

Another bill intended to keep slow-moving traffic out of the left lane on the state's multilane highways has died. It included a provision to restrict trucks to the far right-hand lane on highways with three or more lanes.

Sponsored by Rep. Vern Tincher, D-Riley, HB1372 remained in committee past the March 1 deadline for House bills to move to the Senate.