Two state senators propose 75 mph speed limit on some highways

A bipartisan measure filed Tuesday could shorten the more than 800-mile drive from Pensacola to Key West to less than half a day of travel.

Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, proposed a bill 392) that would allow a 75 mph speed limit on some highways and also boost speeds on other roads. Brandes said the idea is to adjust speed limits on interstate and certain rural highways to accurately reflect what most motorists are already driving.

“If people are driving within rates they’re comfortable with, we need to adjust the minimum and maximum speeds to what 85 percent of people are already driving,” Brandes said. “That’s what this bill would allow.”

The proposal would direct the Florida Department of Transportation to determine the safe minimum and maximum speed limits on all divided highways that have least four lanes.

The DOT would then be able to increase speed limits on the state’s “limited access highways” to 75 mph and raise the maximum posted limit on divided four-lane highways in sparsely populated rural areas from to 70 mph from 65 mph. The DOT could also hike speed limits by 5 mph, to 65 mph, on other roads it deems safe enough to handle such speeds.

Florida’s highways have had a 70 mph maximum since 1996, the last time speed limits were reviewed.

In a news release from the senators, they pointed to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers that indicate the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has consistently declined since 1996.

However, the proposal will face safety questions.

Raising speed limits above 70 mph, as 16 states have done for select roads since the national speed limit was lifted in 1995, has led to more deaths from speeding accidents because reaction times are reduced and the severity of injuries is greater, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, based in Arlington, Va.

“Higher speeds make crashes more likely because it takes longer to stop or slow down, and the crashes that happen are more likely to be deadly. It’s Physics 101,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the institute.

A 2009 study by the American Journal of Public Health found a 3 percent increase in road fatalities attributed to higher speeds after the 1995 repeal of the national speed limit, and a 9 percent increase on rural interstates with higher limits, Rader said.

More importantly for those questioning the increases, motorists have continued to drive faster than the higher limits.

In the decade after the speed limit on rural interstates was raised to 75 mph from 65 mph in Nevada and New Mexico, the proportion of passenger vehicles exceeding 80 mph tripled in Nevada and almost tripled in New Mexico, according to the Insurance Institute.

The Journal of Public Health study was conducted before Maine increased the speed limit to 75 mph for the northern end of Interstate 95 in 2011, the first road east of the Mississippi River to top 70 mph.

Louisiana allows 75 mph on sections of Interstate 49, which is west of the Mississippi River.

Brandes admitted he had some early reservations about adjusting the limits, but the senators said they are comfortable allowing state engineers to determine whether any increases are warranted.

“Allowing professionals to determine safe speeds based on the engineering standards of individual highways is simply common sense,” Clemens said in the news release. “A five mile per hour increase is unlikely to have an impact on road safety, but we’ll let the experts do their job.”

The proposal will be considered during the 2014 legislative session. Currently, there is no House sponsor for the proposal.