Lawmakers allow speed limit increase on ‘limited access freeways,’ which may include some of Michigan’s most heavily traveled roadways
The wording of Michigan’s new, faster speed limit laws got me wondering:
Could the speed demons whizzing around the Lodge Freeway in Detroit and the South Beltline Freeway in Grand Rapids rev things up to 75 mph?
I don’t know if the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan State Police would actually let that happen.
But, the new speed limit laws certainly make that scary scenario a legal possibility.
As I mentioned in my blog post Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder has approved increasing the speed limit on Michigan “freeways” from 70 mph to 75 mph.
In particular, he did away with Michigan’s existing law, which provides that “the maximum speed limit on all freeways shall be 70 miles per hour …” (MCL 257.628(8))
And, in its place, Gov. Snyder approved a law (Enrolled House Bill 4423/Public Act 445 of 2016) which says that “the speed limits” on “limited access freeway” “shall increase … to 75 miles per hour …”
Why that caught my attention is because “limited access freeway” seems broad enough to encompass a great many “freeways” throughout the state where people already drive too fast … and will only be tempting fate if they’re allowed to further indulge their already-dangerous lead foot tendencies.
Leaving ‘rural’ freeways behind
One of the things that interests me about the new speed limit laws is how the nature of the roadways targeted for faster speeds changed over time.
When the new laws were initially introduced as bills in April 2015 and then, passed by the House in June 2016, they proposed to increase the speed limit above 70 mph only on what lawmakers were calling “rural limited access freeways.”
Notably, the lawmakers were careful to distinguish “rural limited access freeways” from “urban limited access freeways.”
However, when the bills were passed by the Senate on December 7, 2016, approved again by the House on December 13, 2016, and signed by Gov. Snyder on January 5, 2017, the “rural” limitation (and, thus, the “rural” versus “urban” distinction) had been eliminated and the increased 75 mph speed limit was said to apply to “limited access freeway …,” which presumably included both rural and non-rural (or “urban”) freeways.
This concerns me both as a driver (of myself and my family) and as a lawyer who helps people who have been injured in serious car accidents caused by speeding drivers.
Given the large number of freeways in heavily traveled, densely populated areas around the state – especially in Southeast and West Michigan – my concern is that the new laws could potentially allow drivers in these areas to put everyone (including themselves) in jeopardy by driving 75 mph.
What is a ‘limited access freeway’?
As too frequently occurs with new laws, the lawmakers behind the speed limit increase laws didn’t spell out what they meant by “limited access freeways.”
Nevertheless, the Motor Vehicle Code may provide some guidance.
It defines a “freeway” as “a divided arterial highway for through traffic with full control of access and with all crossroads separated in grade from pavements for through traffic.” (MCL 257.18a)
And, from the MVC’s definition of “limited access highway,” one can deduce that “limited access” means that people “have no legal right of access to or from” a roadway “except at such points … and in such manner as may be determined by the public authority …” (MCL 257.26)
Similarly, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)’s “Road Terms and Definitions” says the following about freeways, highways and “limited access”:
- Freeway – A freeway is an access-controlled, divided highway designed for the unimpeded movement of large volumes of traffic. Characteristics of a freeway include controlled access through the use of interchanges, and use of underpasses or overpasses at intersections.
- Highway (HWY) – A main road that provides direct access to buildings and intersections. Unlike a limited access freeway, a highway has intersections at grade level and signs and signals to control traffic.
- Limited Access – A highway or section of highway designed for travel by registered motor vehicles. Access is limited to intersections, and driveways are generally not allowed. Freeways are a common type of limited access highway.
What ‘freeways’ could see faster speed limits?
It’s impossible to say with certainty right now what “freeways” throughout Michigan will qualify as “limited access freeways” for purposes of the increase in the maximum freeway speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph.
But when I look around the state – especially in the major metro areas near Detroit and Grand Rapids – it’s clear there are many freeways to which the new speed limit law may apply.
In the Detroit area, there are:
- M-10 – Lodge Freeway
- M-39 – Southfield Freeway
- M-8 – Davison Freeway
- I-696 – Walter P. Reuther Freeway
- I-96 – Jeffries Freeway
- I-94 – Edsel Ford Freeway
- I-75 – Walter P Chrysler Freeway/Fisher Freeway
And, in the Grand Rapids area, there is:
- M-6 – South Beltline Freeway/Paul B. Henry Freeway
On a related note, visit our Michigan’s Most Dangerous Intersections page for a complete list of intersection car crashes that can be searched by any Michigan city or county, and our list of Michigan’s 2016 Top 20 Most Dangerous Intersections.