Iowa House panel advances bill to boost speeds

| 4/7/2005

Drivers on Iowa’s rural interstates would legally be able to drive a little faster under a bill that narrowly cleared a state Senate panel Wednesday, April 6. In exchange, there could be a heftier price to pay if the new limits are exceeded.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 7-5 to send the issue to the full Senate for debate, but stopped short of recommending its approval.

Under the bill, which passed the House 51-49 March 31, the speed limit on Iowa’s four-lane expressways would increase from 65 mph to 70 mph for all vehicles.

Speeding fines and fees 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 in excess of $7 million a year from the additional fines and fees.

As the bill has moved through the House and Senate, opponents have contended the higher limit would lead to more accidents. Supporters say the measure is about safety – ensuring more vehicles on the road travel at similar speeds.

Rep. Dave Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, recently told The Quad-City Times studies have shown that drivers travel interstate highways in Iowa at an average speed of 71 mph regardless of whether 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.

One group that has fought to have provisions in the bill changed is the Iowa Motor Truck Association.

The group’s president, Scott Weiser, recently told Land Line he couldn’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.

Meanwhile, 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 clears the Senate, it will go to Gov. Tom Vilsack’s desk, where it will face a likely veto.

Vilsack, a Democrat, said he disagreed 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 did support higher speeding fines and he favored more money for trooper cars and updated equipment as a separate issue.

HF826 is expected for debate before the full Senate as early as next week.

--By Keith Goble, state legislative editor