Legislature should take a pass on higher speed limits

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

“And I suppose if your friends were all jumping off a cliff, you’d do that too!”

Maybe you heard your mother say that right after you pleaded to be allowed to (fill in the blank) because “Everybody’s doing it!”

Opponents of LB 1009, advanced to general file, to allow the Department of Transportation to raise speed limits statewide say the state is using the same logic as your teenage self.

The statistical method used by traffic engineers to set speed limits is called the “85th percentile rule.”

They start by monitoring the speed of traffic on a fixed point of a road under free-flowing conditions, and the speed at or below which 85 percent of vehicles travel is considered the proper speed limit for the roadway.

They point to South Dakota, where traffic fatalities declined by 13 percent in 2016, a year after the Interstate speed limits were boosted to 80 mph.

Our readers, asked on Feb. 20 to weigh in on raising Interstate 80’s speed limit, tend to agree with the engineers.

Of 265 votes, about 60 percent favor raising the speed limit and about 40 percent oppose doing so.

We know how they feel; folks in our neck of the woods face hours of windshield time getting to larger cities for activities like state sports tournaments, cultural events, specialized medical services — or testifying before legislative committees.

But opponents of raising the limit point to other, long-term research by the insurance industry that show fatalities increase by 4 percent on two-lane highways and 8 percent on Interstates and freeways for each 5 mph increase in the speed limit.

Rose White, traffic safety director for AAA Nebraska, makes some valid points, however.

* Higher speeds may save time, but it will be minimal. A trip from Omaha to Lincoln at 80 instead of 75 would save approximately 2.5 minutes or 150 seconds.

Danger increases with speed, with commercial trucks, which make up much of the coast-to-coast Instate, take twice as far to stop as a passenger car.

* Higher Interstate speeds will make it harder for entering traffic to merge with the flow. The Nebraska Trucking Association and Crete Carrier Corp. oppose the legislation.

* Higher speed makes it harder to see animals, pedestrians, stranded vehicles or road debris at night. AAA points to a study at iihs.org showing that most headlights on U.S. vehicles are woefully inadequate for nighttime driving at highway speeds.

* While state law prohibits texting while driving or failing to wear a safety belt, they are not “primary” laws, meaning you must be stopped for some other reason before being fined for such behavior. AAA also sees Nebraska’s child passenger safety law as “critically short” of meeting model national standards, protecting children only through age 5.

Finally, Rose White of AAA points out that from the year 2007 through 2016, some 2,170 lives were lost on Nebraska roadways, with another 169,971 injured, some with devastating lifelong injuries.

“Why increase the deadly risks that already exist on our state’s roadways? Instead of saving seconds, shouldn’t we focus on efforts that will prevent crashes and save lives?” White asks.

The Auto Club official makes a good point. Opposition by the trucking industry carries weight as well.

The Legislature should take a pass on LB 1009.

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