Michigan speed limits to get a makeover?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/15/2014

If a pair of Michigan state lawmakers get their way, truckers and other highway users could soon be authorized to drive faster – while maintaining the speed differential on the state’s fastest roadways.

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.

Sens. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, are behind two bills in the Senate Transportation Committee that would alter posted speeds.

Casperson’s bill, SB896, could increase speeds for motorists on rural interstates to 80 mph while trucks could be authorized to drive 70 mph.

Urban interstates could be posted at 70 mph while state highways could be posted at 65 mph. County roads could be posted at 60 mph.

Permitted speeds through construction zones would also be changed. Speeds on highways with only one lane open to traffic would be set at 60 mph. If construction workers are present without a barrier separating them from traffic, the speed would be set at 45 mph.

The bill includes a provision that would open the door to additional changes. Specifically, speed studies could be done to determine whether posted limits should be increased or decreased.

Advocates say the changes would bring speed limits more into line with how fast traffic already travels in the state.

If approved, the Wolverine State would join 16 other states to authorize speeds of at least 75 mph. Only two of those states (Idaho and Montana) allow cars to travel one speed – 75 mph – while keeping trucks at a slower speed – 65 mph.
Maine is the only state east of the Mississippi River with posted speeds in excess of 70 mph. A Florida bill on the governor’s desk would authorize all vehicles to travel 75 mph.

Jones’ bill, SB898, would set speeds on affected roadways 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, the former sheriff of Eaton County, 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.

Truckers have voiced concern that higher speed limits result in a wider disparity between the posted speed and how fast many speed-limited trucks can travel.

OOIDA officials say that speed limiters on trucks have a tendency to create speed differentials between trucks and other faster moving vehicles. The Association cites research that shows when speed differentials are present the frequency of interactions with other vehicles increases.

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