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Friday, Aug 22, 2014
Editorials

Florida highways don’t need more speed

Published:

One thing Florida doesn’t need is more speeding drivers, yet a legislative proposal would encourage faster driving, making roads more dangerous and inefficient.

The legislation has some safeguards. But it is unnecessary in a state already plagued by aggressive driving.

The proposal by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, and Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, would allow speed limits to be increased by 5 mph. State law now allows speed limits to be set up to 70 mph on interstates, 65 mph on highways with a divided median and 60 mph on other roadways.

Under the legislation, the speed limit would be increased only on sections of road where traffic engineers deem the move appropriate, a prudent provision.

But why would anyone want motorists to drive even faster on Florida roads? Speed limits are routinely ignored now, and resource-limited law enforcement officers are unable to rigorously patrol roads. And when they pull over motorists or stop to help them, their lives often are placed in jeopardy by drivers who ignore the “move over” law, as the Tribune recently reported.

Increasing the limit will result in speeders taking even greater license and put officers in even more danger.

For instance, motorists in a 70 mph zone now may try getting away with 75 mph to 85 mph. With a 75 mph limit, they would probably go to 80 mph to 90 mph or more.

Such speeds are likely to result in more deaths and serious injuries when something goes amiss.

Brandes points out Florida traffic fatalities have been going down, from 2,753 in 1996, when the speed limit was last raised, to 2,398 in 2011, even as the population increased.

But that is likely the result of better-designed vehicles, which now have both seat belts and air bags, and better roads — not increasing speeds and the likelihood of high-impact collision.

A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found deaths and injuries on U.S. interstates have increased since the repeal of the federal 55 mph speed limit in 1995, particularly in states that increased speeds above 65 mph. Deaths on Iowa rural roads went up 10 percent when the speed limit was raised from 65 to 70 mph.

As the Tribune’s James Rosica reports, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found speeding “remains a safety problem in the 16 states with a 75 mph or greater speed limit.”

Russ Rader of the Institute told Rosica, “You don’t need a study — it’s just physics. Higher speeds mean it’s less likely that a driver facing an emergency will be able to brake and reduce the speed enough to make a crash survivable.”

Higher speed limits also could pose a danger to Florida’s seniors.

Transportation researchers say a key factor in road safety is minimizing speed variations among cars.

When there are great differences in the car speeds on the same road, the chances of accidents increase.

Raising the speed limit could prove a challenge to some seniors, who feel safer with speeds that provide them more reaction time, and surely would exaggerate speed variations on a highway.

Another issue: Boosting the speed limit will increase fuel consumption and energy inefficiency.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional 25 cents per gallon for gas.

Promoting such waste is hardly good public policy.

There is no compelling reason to increase speed limits. Lawmakers should put the brakes on a proposal that would serve only to make our roads less safe and more intimidating.

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