One Utah bill would slow trucks only; another would speed up all traffic

| 2/5/2007

The Utah Senate has approved a bill that includes provisions to allow all drivers to travel faster. A separate effort would create split speeds by slowing trucks only on most highways.

The Senate voted 19-9 to approve a bill that would increase the speed limits by 5 mph on state highways and interstates for all vehicles. The effort - SB17 - now heads to the House for further consideration.

Truckers and others traveling on rural interstates and other limited access routes would be cleared to drive 80 miles per hour - up from the current 75 mph limit. The speed limit along urban interstates and other roads would increase from 65 mph to 70 mph.

Before drivers would be cleared to travel at higher rates of speed the Utah Department of Transportation would do a study to determine if there are areas where it wouldn't be safe to increase speeds.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said that drivers are already traveling safely at these speeds.

"People travel at a speed they feel is reasonable and prudent," Jenkins recently told The Herald Journal.

That doesn't sound good to Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful.

She has introduced a bill that would slow trucks down along those same stretches of roadway by 10 mph. All other vehicles would be cleared to continue to travel at the current speed limit.

The bill - HB199 - would lower truck speeds from 75 mph to 65 mph while driving on rural interstates and limited-access highways. The 65 mph limit on urban interstates would remain unchanged for trucks and cars.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say that requiring 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 is constantly required to avoid crashes," OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line.

Allen's bill is in the House Rules Committee.

The bill that would keep speed limits uniform includes a provision that is intended to combat aggressive driving on multi-lane highways by keeping most motorists out of the far left-hand lane. Large trucks already are restricted to the right lanes of highways with at least three lanes in the same direction.

The proposed change to state law would require vehicles traveling in the left lane to move right, when practical, when they are about to be overtaken by another vehicle.

The bill also would require that people traveling on highways adopt a two-second rule.

Jenkins wrote in the bill that drivers must "follow at a distance so that at least two seconds elapse before reaching the location of the vehicle directly in front of the operator's vehicle."

It also would require that drivers preparing to turn right or left must signal their intentions for at least two seconds. Existing law requires a three-second heads up for other drivers.

One other provision in the bill is intended to address the increasing problem of distracted driving. It would create a new category of tickets for "careless" driving.

Any person found guilty of two or more moving violations or one moving violation while being distracted by one or more activities not related to the operation of the vehicle would be considered to be driving carelessly.

The bill lists five examples of distracting activities while driving. They include using cell phones, eating, drinking or applying makeup while driving.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor