Arizona bill could alter speed in name of safety

| 4/13/2005

The Arizona House is reviewing a bill intended to make highways safer by altering speed limits in certain areas. It previously approved by the state Senate.

Sponsored by Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, the bill would allow the state highway department to increase speeds on rural highways beyond the 75 mph limit.

Verschoor said roadways are safer when people drive about the same speed, a view generally shared by OOIDA officials.

“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 creates a dangerous situation.”

Opponents say higher speeds will lead to more accidents.

Verschoor pointed out the bill would simply permit, but not require, Arizona’s transportation director to make the change.

If approved by House lawmakers, the bill – SB1330 – would go to Gov. Janet Napolitano.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted 16-11 to reject a separate speed-limit proposal offered by Verschoor.

SB1324 sought to use majority rules to determine the speed drivers in Arizona can travel on state roads and freeways.

It required the 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 covered multilane interstate highways, as well as all numbered two-lane roads throughout the state.

ADOT officials have said they already take into consideration the 85th percentile rule. They say traffic volume, roadway conditions 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 third measure offered by Verschoor is awaiting consideration before the full Senate.

SB1321 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; the bill 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.

A fourth bill sponsored by Verschoor would boost speed limits to 80 mph on highways. SB1329, however, remains in the Senate Transportation Committee for further discussion.