House bill proposes raising speed limit

Legislation would affect rural highways, interstates

A speed limit sign is seen along U.S. 54. A proposed bill in the Missouri legislature would increase the speed along rural interstates and freeways from 70 to 75.

A speed limit sign is seen along U.S. 54. A proposed bill in the Missouri legislature would increase the speed along rural interstates and freeways from 70 to 75. Katie Alaimo/News Tribune

A bill that would increase the speed limits on rural interstates and highways has drawn hesitation from Missouri drivers and the state Transportation department.

In House Bill 1215, state Rep. Mike Kelley, R- Lamar, would raise speed limits on expressways, highways and interstates in rural areas from 70 to 75 mph.

Kelley said several states successfully have implemented a speed limit increase without a corresponding increase in traffic fatalities. Three of Missouri’s neighboring states — Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas — have rural speed limits of 75 mph.

Furthermore, Kelley said, drivers are likely to be more alert to their surroundings when traveling at higher speeds, and less likely to be engaged in distractions like texting. Drivers traveling too slowly also can impede the flow of traffic, he said.

“I believe we will actually see an increase in safety,” Kelley said.

The speed limit on interstates in rural areas has been 70 mph since 1996, said Sally Oxenhandler, a MoDOT customer relations manager. The state legislature set Missouri highway and expressway speed limits that year following the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Law, which had established a national speed limit of 55 mph since the mid-1970s.

Drivers had mixed reactions to Kelley’s bill.

Aaron McDonald, who commutes daily from Centertown to Fulton, said he would support a speed limit increase.

“I’d love to see that happen,” he said. “A lot of these roads are so straight anyway — the new highway 50, it’s dual lane.”

But other drivers expressed concerns about the proposed change.

“I’d actually rather see the speed limit decrease myself,” said Holt’s Summit resident Valerie Lyon. “Scientifically, you get better gas mileage when you drive 60 or below … economically, if we want to conserve our gas we should be driving slower, not faster.”

Lisa LeMaster, a MoDOT senior governmental relations specialist, said the department had to take a serious look at any bill that could cause more traffic fatalities.

“The department is concerned over legislation that has the potential to increase the traffic incident rates, as well as the severity of the traffic crash,” she said.

LeMaster added that the number of fatalities is at its lowest since the 1940s and has been on an overall decline over the past few years, from 1,096 in 2006 to 826 in 2012.

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