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
“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
“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
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