LEGISLATURE 2014

Divided Florida House okays 75 mph speed limit

 
WEB VOTE A bill passed by the Florida House that sets the speed limit on parts of I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike at 75 mph has landed on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for final approval. Should he sign it?

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Florida would become the first state east of the Mississippi where drivers could travel 75 mph on major highways under a bill that squeaked past the House on Wednesday and is headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

SB 392 cleared on a 58-56 vote, the closest House vote in the 2014 session, though an unlikely coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans nearly defeated it.

Supporters, most of them Republicans, said the measure simply gives engineers for the state Department of Transportation the power to set “safe and advisable” maximum speeds on state roads.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, the House sponsor, cited the 85th percentile rule, the idea that the safest speed is that at which 85 percent of drivers travel. He said it’s actually more dangerous if drivers go too slowly on roads built for speed.

“I have yet to see any incontrovertible proof that speed, in and of itself, is the contributing factor to increasing fatalities,” Caldwell told House members.

Leading the opposition was Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, the Legislature’s most outspoken highway safety advocate. The death of his teenage daughter Dori in a 1996 highway crash provided much of the push for a stricter seat belt law in Florida, and House Democrats often defer to Slosberg’s views on safety issues.

“You never want to get that call: ‘Your daughter died in a car crash.’ Well, I got the call, and one of the reasons she died was because of speed,” Slosberg said in debate, nothing that not one constituent has asked him to vote for a higher speed limit. “This bill is a threat to our public safety.”

Later Wednesday, Slosberg wrote a letter to Gov. Scott asking him to veto the “harmful, irresponsible bill.”

Opponents, most of them Democrats, warned that drivers would go much faster, resulting in more deadly crashes in a state of congested highways where many are tourists, college students and the elderly.

“Your constituents will die on the interstates,” said Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth.

One of the House’s most conservative members, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said he voted no because of his own tendency to drive too fast. He cited his decades of experience as a funeral director and before that as an ambulance attendant.

“I’ve had to scrape people off the roads,” Baxley said. “It’s your kids. It’s your grandkids.”

The higher speed limit could apply to about 1,500 miles of heavily-traveled highways where the limit is now 70, including Interstate 75, Florida’s Turnpike, the Suncoast Parkway, I-95, I-4 and I-10.

The vote came the same week the Scripps Florida Investigative Team — which includes Scripps newspapers and television stations — obtained the state driving histories of every state legislator voting on the bill and found nearly three dozen with multiple violations on their driving record. Of the 160 legislators reviewed, 35 have 10 or more violations — 11 have 20 or more violations.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, 59, was ticketed 43 times since he was first issued a Florida driver’s license in 1973, including 11 speeding tickets since 2001, Scripps reported.

“I don’t make light of it. Speed kills,” said Rouson, who voted against the bill. “But I have driven a lot of miles.”

Thirteen states, most in the Midwest and west, currently have limits of 75 or higher, and Maine allows drivers to go 75 on a small rural stretch of I-95.

Shortly after the House vote, a supporter, Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, called for a second vote, as rules allow, but Republicans said it was too late because the bill had already been sent back to the Senate.

Schwartz said she had “selfishly” voted for the bill but on reflection, decided opponents had stronger arguments. But even if Schwartz’s reconsideration maneuver had succeeded, the bill might still have passed because three Republicans who missed the floor vote later recorded yes votes.

Scott has not said whether he will sign the bill, but Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, a Senate co-sponsor, said he was confident Scott would sign it into law.

Law enforcement groups have not taken a stand, but AAA Auto Club South of Tampa said it would seek to mobilize members statewide to persuade Scott to veto it.

AAA’s Kevin Bakewell said every state with a 75 mph speed limit has a higher rate of traffic deaths than the national average.

“It’s all about safety,” Bakewell said. “The faster you go, if you crash, the more likely there is to be a fatality. There’s really no compelling reason to do it other than people will get there a little faster.”

A total of 39 House Democrats voted against the bill, along with 17 Republicans. Only six Democrats voted yes, along with 52 Republicans.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Read more Legislature stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category