Michigan speed bills get statehouse hearing

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/6/2015

A legislative effort underway at the Michigan statehouse calls for changing the state’s speed limit rules to authorize truckers and other highway users 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.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee met recently to discuss an initiative to alter posted speeds. Sponsored by Rep. Brad Jacobsen, R-Oxford, the lead bill in the package 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 for all users while state highways could be posted at 65 mph. County highways 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.

A provision included in the bill, HB4423, would authorize for changes in speeds to be made if it was determined to be warranted following studies by the Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan State Police.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says roadways are safer when all vehicles are permitted to travel at the same rate of speed.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, said in written testimony that “differential speed limits create more interactions between cars and trucks, which can lead to unlawful or dangerous passing, aggressive driving, and ultimately an increase in the number and severity of accidents.”

He added that “they are also a contributing factor to increased congestion and inefficiencies with local, regional, and national goods movement.”

A related effort underway would reform how the state sets speed limits. HB4425 would rely on the 85th percentile rule to set speeds on roadways throughout the state.

Jacobsen testified that the change would use scientific data rather than emotions to determine speed limits.

“Our speed laws will be updated to reflect the speed at which 85 percent of motorists are already safely driving at,” Jacobsen said.

He added that studies done in the state show when the majority of traffic is traveling at the same speed, traffic flow improves, and fewer accidents occur.

James Walker of the National Motorists Association testified that the bills “will virtually eliminate artificially low posted limits for revenue or other reasons.”

In addition, he said “one thing the bills will do that every driver should appreciate is to reduce speed variance and crash risks.”

If approved, the Wolverine State would join 16 other states in authorizing speeds of at least 75 mph. Only two of those states (Idaho and Montana) allow cars to travel one speed, 80 mph, while keeping trucks at a slower speed, 70 and 65 mph respectively.
Maine is the only state east of the Mississippi River with posted speeds in excess of 70 mph.

Also included in the bill package are measures, HB4426 and HB4427, to change the way the state assesses penalty points for speeding violations.

The bills await further consideration in committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Michigan, click here.

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