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Why is Sen. Rick Jones talking about 35 mph speed traps when he’s pushing to increase speed limit to 80?

Steve Gursten appears on Fox 2 News “Let it Rip” on high speed car accidents – Sen. Rick Jones tries to avoid the subject

Last Sunday morning, I the pleasure of appearing on Fox 2 News “Let it Rip,” hosted by fellow attorney Charlie Langton and Roop Raj. The interview was on House Bill 4434, which would raise the Michigan speed limit to up to 80 miles an hour.

You can actually see the surprise and astonishment on my face in the video below when the other guest on the panel, Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), tried to avoid the subject entirely, when he said:

“Guess what? This whole proposal isn’t about going 80. This proposal is about getting rid of the speed traps in the cities where people are ripping you off!”

What raced through my mind as I heard this was apparently increasing speed limits in Michigan has been focus grouped and tested and didn’t do so well.  This was the best spin the Republican bill sponsors can put on HB 4423.
But this isn’t about 35-mile-an hour speed traps.  If it was, then we would have been debating 35mph speed traps on television.   This is about a misguided attempt to raise the speed limits, and then these lawmakers trying to duck the rather unpleasant issue of just how many more motorists will be dying and becoming seriously injured as a result if speed limits are raised.

House Bill 4423, proposed by Rep. Brad Jacobsen (R-Oakland County, MI), has been referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. It aims to:

  • Raise the speed limit to up to 80 miles per hour on “rural limited access freeways.”
  • Allow commercial trucks to speed at 70 miles an hour on limited access freeways, from the current 60 miles per hour.
  • Allow drivers to go faster in construction zones – from the current 45 miles per hour to “not more than 10 miles per hour less than the speed limit normally posted for that highway segment, but shall not be decreased to less than 30 miles per hour.”

Sen. Jones proposed a similar bill in 2013.

As I said on Fox 2:

“There was a study that came out that said cell phones and texting and driving are responsible for about one out of every four car accidents now. And we’re talking about increasing speed limits at the exact same time that you have more distracted driving than ever before. My biggest problem with this is, it sounds like a great idea in theory, but we know how the story ends.”

Perhaps Sen. Jones and Rep. Jacobsen realize that rationalizing that motorists can get to their destinations a few minutes earlier isn’t a good reason to see a 20% spike in car accident fatalities in Michigan.

The 20% number, by the way, is not my number. It’s based on a University of Michigan Study, “Effects of the 65 MPH Speed Limit on Injury Morbidity and Mortality.” The study found a 19.2% increase in fatalities and a 39.8% increase in serious injuries, when Michigan raised its speed limit on rural limited access highways from 55 miles per hour to 65 miles per hour in December 1987.

That was before cell phones and the epidemic of texting and driving that I see now as an auto accident attorney. So what do we think will happen when we hike that speed up to 80 mph (and we all know that 80 miles per hour is really going to be 90 mph for a lot of drivers)?

Further, as I said, raising the speed limits on some roads actually makes everybody less safe – even when driving on the roads where speed limits aren’t raised:

“The thing about that study was there was a major spillover effect that actually shows that there was an increase of speeding, accidents and injuries – even on roads where the speed limit wasn’t increased. So this affects everybody.”

After I made these points, Sen. Jones tries to distance himself from the fact that the proposal is to increase speed limits to 80 mph.  He says in the segment that he would prefer 75 mph.  I had to remind him that the language in the bill is, in fact, 80 mph.

At the very end of the interview, Sen. Jones also refused to admit that distracted driving and cell phones are a major cause of motor vehicle accidents.

Perhaps the politicians in support of raising the speed limit law in Michigan should actually do some homework first.

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