TALLAHASSEE — A state Senate panel Thursday gave the go sign to a bill that could result in higher speed limits on Florida roads.
The Transportation committee approved the measure by a 6-1 vote, with Tampa Democrat Arthenia Joyner opposing.
In Hillsborough County, she said, “I move over to the extreme right lane, the 'slow' lane, and people are running over me…
“The highways of Florida are not the German autobahns,” she added, referring to the highways with no speed limits. “I just think (the speed limit) is good where it is. I'm concerned about lives.”
The bill (SB 392) would allow the maximum highway speed limit to rise to 75 mph. Florida last bumped the state speed limit to 70 mph in 1996.
State law now allows for 70 mph on interstates, 65 mph for highways with a divided median and 60 mph on certain other roadways. Under the bill, all of these limits could be raised by 5 mph.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, are sponsoring the bill.
Brandes pointed out that any increase on a given stretch of highway would happen only if state traffic engineers determined the roadway was safe enough for a higher speed.
AAA Auto Club Group opposes raising limits, citing a raft of statistics including that 30 percent of highway deaths nationally are caused by speeding.
“The facts clearly show that with our current speed limits, our roads are safer,” spokeswoman Karen MacFarland said.
On the other hand, Brandes has used data from the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to show that Florida driving deaths actually have decreased 13 percent from 1996 to 2011 as overall population and the number of drivers has increased.
He referred to another AAA report that said “many drivers currently ignore speed limits they consider unreasonable.”
“Speed limits matched to road conditions and motorist behavior will restore respect for the law and increase compliance,” he said.
Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, challenged MacFarland on her own driving habits.
'Ma'am, when you're driving on the interstate, do you drive absolutely not over 70 mph?” he asked.
“I'd try to keep at 72, I'd say,” she said.
“Why would you drive 72 mph when the speed limit is 70?” Evers said.
MacFarland was quiet for a moment, then sighed.
“That's just where I keep my speedometer,” she said.
National safety advocates and Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel, a former highway trooper, also have spoken against the bill.
Others have said some highway drivers already drive faster than the posted limit. Raising it further could result in many more people regularly traveling in excess of 80 and possibly 90 mph, they said.
Texas now has the nation's top speed limit at 85 mph, with Utah second at 80 mph, both on certain portions of highway in those states, according to records.
Traffic fatalities in Texas have decreased in the 10 years from 2001-11, from 3,736 to 3,016, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports.
In less-populated Utah, over the same period, deaths went down from 291 to 240.
The bill from Brandes and Clemens next heads to the Senate's Community Affairs committee. It does not yet have a companion bill in the House, according to the Senate's website.