Ohio Turnpike reports safest full year in history; credits speed limit change

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 1/16/2012

With just six traffic-related fatalities in 2011, the Ohio Turnpike reported its safest full year in history. Notably, 2011 was the same year the Ohio Turnpike Commission raised the speed limit for all vehicles to 70 mph.

During its inaugural year, 1955, the Ohio Turnpike recorded just six fatalities, but the complete 241 miles were open for only nine months that year. That leaves 2011 as the safest full year on record.

In a statement released Monday, Jan. 9, Ohio Turnpike Commission Executive Director Rick Hodges highlighted the increased speed limit in April 2011 as a factor in the improved safety record. He said the numbers were especially notable because 49.2 million used the Ohio Turnpike in 2011 compared with 4.9 million in 1955.

Other factors in the safety record include weather, roadway obstacles and driver distractions. Ohio State Highway Patrol Capt. Chris Zurcher stated the importance of driver behavior such as obeying speed limits, paying attention, and resting when needed.

Speaking of speed limits, they’ve changed quite a few times in the turnpike’s history.

The posted speed limit was 75 mph for cars and trucks from 1955 through 1974, when the national speed limit of 55 mph took effect.

Double nickels lasted through 1987 when federal lawmakers permitted states to raise limits to 65 mph. Notably, Ohio lawmakers kept heavy trucks restricted to 55 mph on the turnpike through 2004 when a 65-mph limit took effect for all vehicles.

But that left truckers with a choice between paying a toll to run 65 mph on the turnpike or run on other roadways, including interstates that restricted truck speed to 55.

Lawmakers raised the limit for heavy trucks on other major roadways in 2009, making Ohio a 65-mph state throughout.

Now, because the turnpike operates with a posted limit of 70 mph for all vehicles, and neighboring states are also at 70 mph, Ohio lawmakers are once again considering an increase to speed limits on other major roadways.

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