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Our Opinion: Don't rush to judgment on raising speed limits

January 6, 2015 at 12:00 p.m. | Updated January 6, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

Do Missouri motorists have a need for higher speed limits?

State. Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, has filed legislation to increase the speed limit on the state's rural interstates and freeways from 70 mph to 75 mph. The legislative session begins Wednesday.

We're not averse to the idea, but we encourage lawmakers to insist that sufficient data be provided so they may arrive at a wise decision.

The obvious benefit is reduced travel time. The case also can be made that newer vehicles are safer and fewer collisions occur on four-lane highways.

The obvious drawback is when accidents occur at higher speeds, the laws of physics remind us the severity - and the fatality rate - also increases. Is severity quantifiable?

Missouri has no experience with a 75 mph speed limit and, therefore, no readily available data, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol.

An Associated Press story reports Kansas in 2011 increased its limit on some roads to 75 mph. Although Kansas statistics show a 54 percent increase in fatalities and a 13 percent increase in injury accidents on those roads, officials say it's too soon to attribute those numbers to greater speeds.

A consequence of increased accidents is insurance premiums rise.

Another result of higher speeds is greater fuel consumption.

And, as drivers are aware, actual speeds routinely exceed limits. A 75 mph speed limit effectively would increase actual speeds to the 80 mph range.

The questions lawmakers must answer on behalf of their constituents is whether decreased travel time is worth the trade off in more severe accidents, higher insurance rates and decreased fuel economy.

We urge supporters and opponents of the proposal to produce statistics from other states that will help legislators make an informed decision on behalf of their constituents.


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