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Is proposed new 75 mph speed limit just a ‘rest stop’ on the way to 80?

Lawmakers describe HB 4423 as increasing speed limit to 75 mph; but 80 mph appears to be the real destination increasing speed limits

Here’s my take on the attempts to raise speed limits to 80 mph so far.

Initially, Michigan lawmakers wanted to increase the speed limit on some Michigan freeways to 80 mph. But the public opposition to raising speeds to 80 mph was too great. This may have been why Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) kept avoiding the topic and was talking about 35 mph speed traps when we were debating 80 mph speed limits on Fox 2 News’s “Let It Rip” together.

Politicians being, well, politicians, are now trying again. They seem to have put “brakes” on changing speed limits to 80 mph. But my own reading of the bill is that this is an attempted end-around to still get them to 80 mph but to avoid angering the people who vote for them.

This seems to be the thrust of House Bill 4423 by Rep. Bradford Jacobsen (R-Oxford), which was introduced in April 2015. Now, lawmakers on the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are touting what they claim is a more “palatable” 75 mph speed limit proposal.

One would think, based upon the news coverage so far, that the bill is only intended to raise the Michigan speed limits on some rural freeways to 75mph. But not so fast, my friends. On February 2, 2016, the Committee approved a version of Jacobsen’s HB 4423 which, they claim, would increase the speed limit to only 75 mph. Committee Chair Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) told Michigan Radio:

“We have determined that 75 [miles-per-hour] would be more palatable for people to accept.”

But comments to the media from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jacobsen, suggest that, rather than being a final destination, 75 mph is just a “rest stop” on the way to 80 mph. He told the Detroit Free Press:

“In certain areas with rural access highways that now have a speed limit of 70, it would go to 75 with the potential for 80 miles per hour if the Michigan State Police finds that all safety requirements would be met.”

Additionally, Rep. Jacobsen stated, in a press release on the Michigan House Republicans website (which was quoted by MLive):

“While this legislation specifically calls for raising speed limits on certain freeways to 75 mph, we included provisions that also allows for the studying of raising the speed limit to 80 mph in the future …”

It’s this “provision” to raise the 75 mph to 80 mph that I believe many people are missing.

I’ve been opposed to raising the speed limits to 80 mph in Michigan. As an attorney who helps people injured in automobile accidents, I see firsthand the devastation that distracted driving, such as from texting while driving a car, is causing in the accident cases I litigate. And, as even the strongest proponents of 80 mph admit, speed kills. The injuries will be more severe, and more people will die in motor vehicle accidents if speed limits are increased to 80 mph.

That’s why I was initially pleased when I heard that lawmakers have limited their proposed speed limit increases to a 75 mph compromise, rather than the 80 mph that they sought initially.

Yes, 75 mph is, indeed, more dangerous than 70 mph, but it’s a far better compromise than 80 mph.

But, will it stay at 80mph? As I told Fox 2 Detroit’s Roop Raj and Charlie Langton when I appeared on “Let It Rip” to discuss the efforts to increase speed limits to 80mph:

“When you’re going 80 mph, you’re going over 120 feet per second. Two things happen. The first is that the critical, critical safety cushion that allows you to perceive and to react and to prevent an accident, disappears. Because by the time you look up and you’re texting and you see a car in front you, guess what? You’ve already traveled the distance of a football field before you get to take any evasive action. And the second thing that happens is we know, because it’s physics, that speed kills. And trucks annihilate. So not only do you lose that critical safety cushion, but the result of the crashes are going to be far worse.”

Is 80 mph speed limits the true destination for lawmakers who don’t want to anger the public?

Lawmakers’ comments to the media give the impression that 80 mph is really nothing more than just something to consider in the future after more study and research has been done. But my reading of the Committee-approved version of HB 4423 suggests 80 mph is closer to becoming a reality than lawmakers are acknowledging.

Specifically, the Committee-approved version of HB 4423 says that, within a year of passage of the bill, speed limits Michigan “rural” freeways will be increased to, at least, 75 mph and, at most, 80 mph:

“The state transportation department and the department of state police may raise the speed limit on a section of a rural limited access freeway to 75 miles per hour … [and] to no more than 80 miles per hour … if an engineering and safety study and the eighty-fifth percentile speed of free-flowing traffic under ideal conditions of that section contains findings that the speed limit may be raised.” (Page 9 of the Committee-approved version of HB 4423)

* * *

“No later than 1 year after the effective date of the amendment act that added this subsection, the state transportation department and the department of state police shall increase the speed limits on at least 600 miles of rural limited access freeway … to the speed limits described in this subsection.” (Page 10 of the Committee-approved version of HB 4423)

Chart: Progress of ‘speed limit’ bill

Below is a chart showing how HB 4423 and the Committee-approved version stack up to Michigan’s existing law:

Type of Speed Limit Existing Law House Bill 4423 House Approved Version of HB 4423
All freeways. Max. speed is 70 mph. (MCL 257.628(8)) Raise the speed limit up to 80 mph on “rural limited access freeways.” (Page 6) Within one year of this legislation being passed, the “speed limits on at least 600 miles of rural limited access freeway” “shall” be increased to “75 miles per hour” and “no more than 80 miles per hour.” (Pages 9-10)
Trucks weighing 10,000 lbs. or more on freeways. Max. speed is 55 mph. (MCL 257.627(6)) Raise the truck speed limit to 70 mph on “limited access freeways.” (Page 4) Speed limit for trucks of any weight is “10 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit on a limited access freeway.” (Page 4) For trucks weighing 10,000 lbs. or more, the speed limit on “rural” freeways will increase by 10 mph to 15 mph up to 65 mph or 70 mph.
Trucks weighing less than 10,000 lbs. on freeways. Max. speed is 60 mph. (MCL 257.627(6)) Raise the truck speed limit to 70 mph on “limited access freeways.” (Page 4) Speed limit for trucks of any weight is “10 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit on a limited access freeway.” (Page 4) For trucks weighing less than 10,000 lbs., the speed limit on “rural” freeways will increase by 5 mph to 10 mph up to 65 mph or 70 mph.
Work zones. Max. speed is 45 mph. (MCL 257.627(9)) Allow drivers in “work zones” to go faster than the current 45 mph limit: Construction zone speed limits “may be decreased by 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.” (Page 5) Returns to the existing law.
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