Effort to alter highway speeds killed in Arizona House

| 4/22/2005

The Arizona House has rejected an effort intended to make highways safer by altering speed limits in certain areas in the state.

Lawmakers voted 44-16 against the bill April 12. The Senate approved it last month.

Sponsored by Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, the bill would have allowed 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 shared by OOIDA.

“The dangerous speed is where we have speed differentiation,” Verschoor said before the House vote, explaining that problems arise when 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 have said higher speeds will lead to more accidents.

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

The bill – SB1330 – was not the only speed-limit effort offered by Verschoor rejected by lawmakers.

Senators voted 16-11 to reject a bill that would have used majority rules to determine the speed drivers in Arizona can travel on state roads and freeways.

SB1324 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, however, is awaiting consideration in the Senate Transportation Committee. That bill, SB1329, calls for the speed limit to be boosted to 80 mph on highways.