Effort to widen gap between car and truck speeds dies in Oregon

| 5/18/2007

A bill in the Oregon House that would have widen the speed gap between cars and trucks to 15 mph on the state’s rural interstate highways is history – for now.

Sponsored by Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, the bill remained in the House Transportation Committee at the deadline to advance to the chamber floor, effectively killing it for the year.

The bill – HB3117 – called for increasing the speed limit for cars from 65 mph to 70 mph along rural stretches of interstates. Truck traffic would have continued to be restricted to the current 55 mph speed limit.

Thatcher said she offered the bill because “cars are already going 70.” She added that trucks are driving 61 mph.

She told “Land Line Now” she didn’t include a provision in the bill for higher truck speeds because it would be unpopular with many people. While she acknowledged a wider speed differential could lead to safety problems, she said her main concern is allowing cars to travel faster.

“I simply want to open the door for cars to go 70,” Thatcher said before the bill was declared dead.

A 2005 law opened the door for car speeds to increase while leaving truck speeds the same. Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed that bill into law after a study conducted by the Transportation Commission 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 rule, the commission decided not to bump the limits.

Opponents say the state’s study is misleading.

“It looked at what speeds vehicles are running now. What that study more or less showed is that both car and truck drivers anticipated a 5-mph tolerance. That was reflected in their speeds,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line.

“What the study reflected is that while truckers might not have agreed with the state’s speed policy they were doing a pretty good job complying with it, regardless. Had there been uniform speed limits, they would have seen much closer to uniform speeds.”

Spencer pointed out that 40 states now have uniform speed limits for all vehicles using their highways.

“The only speed limit policy that makes any sense is the kind that has all vehicles traveling at the same speed,” he said.

Oregon is the only state west of the Mississippi River with speed limits for cars below 70 mph. California is the only other state with truck speeds at 55 mph. Idaho and Montana limit trucks to 65 mph, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Any more proposed changes to speed limits in Oregon will have to wait until the next regular session that convenes in January 2009. The Legislature meets in regular session once every two years.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.