Could Michigan soon boost speed limits and reduce car-truck differential?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/29/2013

An effort underway in Michigan could result in faster, more uniform speed limits. Two nearby states are also looking into speed changes and are months away from posting new limits.

Michigan law now authorizes 70 mph speeds for motorists on certain highways while large trucks are limited to 60 mph. On other major roadways the speeds are 65 mph and 55 mph, respectively.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, is working on a bill that would overhaul how the state sets speed limits on highways. Specifically, the former sheriff of Eaton County would like to see speeds set based on the 85th percentile rule.

The method is used to set speed limits at or below the speed at which 85 percent of traffic is moving.

Jones contends that the state would be better off to set speeds on individual roads based on studies done by the Michigan State Police and communities.

The State Police would also determine whether truck speeds should be changed.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer has said it’s imperative for road safety that any changes made to driving speeds promote uniformity.

“Requiring trucks to drive at speeds slower than other vehicles does not promote safety. It does exactly the opposite by requiring vehicles to be constantly in conflict with each other,” Spencer said.

In neighboring Wisconsin, the 85th percentile rule could soon result in changes to speed limits on the state’s freeways and expressways.

One bill would raise the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on affected roadways. However, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation would be able to set lower speeds near cities.

Opponents say that higher speeds result in higher numbers of crashes and fatalities.

Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Manitowoc, said the state would be well served to adopt speeds that more closely reflect the 85th percentile rule.

According to WisDOT, all four interstates have 85th percentile speeds that exceed 70 mph. The highest rate is 78 mph on portions of Interstate 43.

“When I talk to people about raising the limit, many of them say it’s about time,” Tittl said in prepared remarks.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed a bill into law increasing speed limits from 65 mph to 70 mph for all vehicles on rural four-lane highways and the Illinois Tollway. The change takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

“This limited 5 miles-per-hour increase will bring Illinois’ rural interstate speed limits in line with our neighbors and the majority of states across America,” Quinn stated.

The number of highways where new speeds are authorized could change in the months ahead. Cook and the “collar” counties surrounding Chicago, and Madison and St. Clair counties outside of St. Louis can opt out of the rule change.

Quinn said the opt-out option allows counties to make adjustments based on their own local needs.

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