Oregon plan to increase speed differential sent to governor

| 7/15/2005

The Oregon Senate has approved a bill that could widen the speed gap for cars and trucks on rural interstate highways.

Senators voted 25-2 to advance the bill to Gov. Ted Kulongoski. It passed the House 40-1 this spring.

The bill would allow for truck speed limits to increase from 55 mph to as much as 65 mph while increasing car speeds from 65 mph to 70 mph on certain sections of rural interstates.

However, HB3252 leaves the door open for car speeds to increase while truck speeds stay the same.

The latest version of the speed limit bill differs from an earlier one in that a rate lower than 65 mph could be posted for tractor-trailers and other large vehicles if safety conditions warrant a slower speed.

“The Oregon Transportation Commission would have the option of setting a 65, 60 or 55 mph limit for trucks,” Rep. George Gilman, R-Medford, recently told the Mail Tribune. “They did not have this flexibility in the first bill.”

Kulongoski signed that measure into law in 2003. However, a study conducted by the Transportation Commission later advised against boosting the current speed limit for cars and trucks on rural interstates.

The study said that while it was reasonable to raise car limits to 70 mph, “the engineering analysis supports a speed limit of 60 mph for trucks and not a higher limit.”

Because the two speeds were linked in the new law, the commission decided not to bump the limits.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which has sought the aid of professional truck drivers in Oregon to influence lawmakers to eliminate the speed gap, said the study’s recommendation doesn’t hold water.

“The only speed limit policy in any state that makes any safety sense is to have a uniform speed limit. When you look carefully at any argument to the contrary, they lack merit,” Spencer said.

He said the rationale used by the Oregon Transportation Department in determining trucks shouldn’t have a uniform limit with cars was based on their interpretation of 85th percentile speeds.

“While 85th percentile speeds are the correct way to set speed limits they also have to reflect reality of compliance with existing speed limits,” Spencer said. “Basically, what their study showed is that many truckers in Oregon do comply with the lower speed limit even though it isn’t the safest speed.

“The study DOT used was itself flawed in that there is a split speed limit in the state.”

Spencer said the study measured compliance with existing speed limits more so than it did an 85th percentile of a reasonable speed policy.

“Had there been a uniform speed limit when they did the study or had there been no speed limit at all, what they would have found would have shown very little difference between truck speeds and car speeds based on 85th percentile. That would have been a legitimate way to set speed policy.”

If the measure becomes law, local governments would be able to request a change in speed limits within their jurisdictions. ODOT would review any requested change and follow it up with a public meeting and updated speed study in the affected region.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor