End to Ohio split speed limits: chalk another one up for OOIDA

| 4/7/2009

The trucking industry has watched as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association waged battle in Ohio for years. That lengthy battle ended in victory last week with the end of the dangerous and much-despised split speeds on Buckeye interstates.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed a two-year, $9.6 billion transportation budget Wednesday, April 1. That budget includes a provision that does away with split speed limits on interstates effective July 1.

The breakthrough in policy in Ohio was more than just welcome news to truckers. It is a sweet triumph for OOIDA and its members.

“It feels great to add Ohio to the list of states that have eliminated split speeds, thanks to a long campaign by OOIDA to inform and reform bad safety policy,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice-president of OOIDA. “The only speed limit policy that makes sense is to have all vehicles traveling at the same speed. It is a welcome change in Ohio that is long overdue.”

In the mid-90s, OOIDA was able to convince lawmakers that individual states should decide speed limits – not the U.S. Congress. OOIDA pushed for this change in the law with the help of the National Motorists Association, and over the objections of the American Trucking Associations.

Ohio has been one of the major battlegrounds.

Countless OOIDA members who hail from Ohio also logged many hours at the state Capitol communicating with their elected officials. OOIDA’s leadership made numerous trips to the statehouse in Columbus – treks that set the course for this week’s hard-fought success.

Through the years OOIDA has tapped on an arsenal of resources in Ohio to represent its membership on the issue of uniform speeds. In addition to sending its own officials to the state to discuss the issue with lawmakers, the Association hired a public relations firm and a lobbying firm to help turn the tide of negative press truckers were receiving in their endeavor to eliminate split speeds. OOIDA also brought in power-hitters like Julie Cirillo, former assistant administrator and chief safety officer for the FMCSA, to tell Ohio lawmakers about the safety benefits of uniform speeds.

Among the most aggressive of the opponents was the Ohio Highway Patrol, a powerful and vocal foe that wanted no part of it. It said that faster trucks lead to more problems.

However, research collected by OOIDA concludes that the difference in vehicle speeds, not excessive speed, contributes to accidents. Collisions occur when trucks and cars must change lanes and pass more frequently.

This research was directed to Ohio state officials, policymakers and law enforcement. When those people left their posts for various reasons, the research was sent to their successors. It seemed an endless task to stamp out the misinformation.

“We are appreciative of the lawmakers recognizing the importance of this issue and once and for all resolving it,” said Spencer.

Among the changes endorsed by lawmakers is the elimination of the provision in Ohio law that set up a slower speed on interstates for vehicles with a gross weight of more than 8,000 pounds. Speed limits on other roadways will remain unchanged.

Currently, large vehicles are required to travel 55 mph – 10 mph below the 65 mph limit for other vehicles. With the bill’s passage, all vehicles traveling on interstates soon will be cleared to drive 65 mph.

Spencer said there are nine more states that need to ditch treacherous speed differentials, and OOIDA will continue to push them hard for uniform speeds. One of those states is Illinois, where another OOIDA battle has been ongoing. On Friday, Spencer was optimistic that Illinois split speeds will soon be history.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please send your comments with us at statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.