TALLAHASSEE — Safety advocates and a county sheriff Thursday spoke against a legislative measure that could result in higher speed limits on Florida roads.
Minutes before the press conference, however, sponsors of the bill — filed for the 2014 legislative session — launched a pre-emptive strike, clarifying in a joint statement that their proposal “does not mandate speed limit increases.”
The bill (SB 392) would allow the maximum highway speed limit to rise to 75 mph. Florida last increased the state speed limit to 70 mph in 1996.
But any increase on a given stretch of highway would happen only if traffic engineers determined the roadway was safe enough for a higher speed, according to the bill, backed by Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.
Still, any opportunity for people to drive faster is a recipe for disaster, opponents told reporters.
“It’s a simple case of human behavior,” said John Ulczycki, vice president of the National Safety Council. “People do the same kind of risky behavior over and over again.
“They speed and they say, ‘What’s the problem with speeding? I’ve never been in a crash,’” he added. “The human mind does a wonderful job of fooling us into believing it’s other people that are the problem.”
Brandes has previously used data from the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to show that Florida driving deaths actually have decreased from 2,753 in 1996, when the speed limit was last raised, to 2,398 in 2011.
That’s as population and the number of drivers has gone up, he said.
In Thursday’s news release, Brandes also said many highway drivers already go 75 mph or faster.
That’s the problem, said Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast. He said some troopers don’t even start enforcing the restriction until speeds reach 15 to 20 mph over the posted limit.
“Raise the speed limit even further and you’re probably going to have people going over 80 and possibly 90 mph,” he said.
Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel, a former highway trooper, admitted enforcement could be better, explaining that drivers can’t be ticketed using radar unless they’re doing 6 mph or more over the limit.
At the same time, “a lot of people get that first ticket, and they quit (speeding),” Creel said. “They’re going to obey the law because their insurance rates are going to go up.”
State law allows for 70 mph on interstates, 65 mph for highways with a divided median and 60 mph on other roadways. Under the Brandes-Clemens bill, all of these limits could be raised 5 mph.
Texas now has the nation’s top speed limit at 85 mph. Traffic fatalities in Texas decreased 19 percent from 2001 to 2011, from 3,736 to 3,016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Nearly 200 people responded to an informal online survey about the issue at TBO.com, with about two-thirds saying they approve of approve raising Florida’s top limit to 75 mph.