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Bills would increase Michigan speed limit to 80 miles per hour, endanger construction workers

April 7, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

increasing speed limits

Speed kills. But apparently some Michigan lawmakers don’t care. Sen. Casperson (R-Alger) and Sen. Pappageorge (R-Berkley) have released a package of bills (SB 895-898) that would allow drivers to speed up to 80 miles per hour.

I explain why this is a dangerous idea below.  What I truly don’t understand is why the bill seeks to increase speeds in construction zones.  As an attorney who has helped the families of construction workers killed by speeding motorists, there seems no debate about the dangers of construction zones. But SB 896 would make them even more dangerous.

According to SB 896:

Drivers can go 80: On rural limited access freeways, drivers can speed up to 80 miles per hour — up 10 miles per hour from current law.

Commercial trucks and buses can go 70: Trucks with a gross weight limit of 10,000 pounds or more, school buses, buses can drive up to 70 miles per hour on a limited access freeway — up 10 miles per hour from current law.

Drivers can speed in construction zones: A speed limit on a highway where with a lane closure due to construction or maintenance may be decreased by not more than 10 miles per hour less than the normal speed limit. This is a change from the previous 45 miles an hour speed limit in construction zones and puts workers and drivers in great danger.

The current Michigan speed limit is 70 miles per hour on rural and urban interstates, except for trucks, which are allowed to go up to 55-60 miles per hour, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The lawmakers based the proposed new speed limits using the “85th percentile” model, which is based on a study that states an appropriate speed is that which 85% of the cars are going (or lower) when conditions are stable (The remaining 15% of the vehicles are going faster).

Increasing speed limits poses an immediate risk to drivers

Todd Berg, a Michigan Auto Law attorney, was recently quoted in the Livingston Daily as a legal expert on speeding and car accidents:

Increasing speed limits in general poses an immediate risk to motorists, said Todd Berg, an attorney with the Farmington Hills-based Michigan Auto Law firm. The law firm primarily represents victims of automobile and motorcycle crashes.

Berg said the severity of crashes, regardless of the number of total crashes, increases when speed limits are increased.

That’s a particular concern for motorists and road crews as cellphone distractions continue to increase, he added.

Berg said work-zone crashes have been on the decline since 2010.

“The existing laws, at least over that time period, the safety in work zones has improved and thus drivers and, most importantly, construction workers in those areas are going to be safer. Why at this point change not only the speed limits in those areas but also back off on the penalties for work-zone speeders?” he said.


Other speed limits in the proposed senate bills

  • Urban limited access freeways – 70 miles per hour
  • Trunk line highways – 65 miles per hour
  • County highways – 60 miles per hour
  • Gravel county highways – 55 miles per hour
  • Mobile home parks – 15 miles per hour
  • Business district – 25 miles per hour
  • Residential – 25 miles per hour

Speed kills, period.

We know with absolute certainty that speed kills – based upon simple physics.  The largest studies to date, performed by O’Day and Flora (1982) and Joksch (1993) and presented by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found an exponential increase in risk of a car driver being killed in a crash as the automobile increases in speed.

The relationship of speed to crash severity is unequivocal, according to yet another large study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.  Velocity change in a car crash is a critical measure of crash severity.

As I told Kathy Grey from the Detroit Free Press in a story on this issue of higher speed limits:

“We are increasing speed limits at the exact same time that there is more distraction in our car than ever. When you increase speed, two things happen: Your safety cushion of being able to react quickly disappears, and the collision that ensues is going to be more severe.”

This package of bills is horrific. Not only are we letting drivers of cars speed, but we are letting fully-loaded commercial trucks barrel down the highways – and we can all put the pedal to the medal in construction zones. More lives will be lost in speeding car and truck accidents if these laws are passed. Construction workers’ lives will be in great peril.

And all so people can get to Starbucks, the mall or the office a few seconds quicker.

Next week, I will be delving further into these bills, with analysis on the effects, construction zones crashes and the penalties.

The package of bills has been referred to the Committee on Transportation.

Related information:

Speed kills – Why increasing  Michigan’s speed limit law is a bad idea

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