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Safety Advocates Try To Put Brakes On Raising Speed Limit

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(Credit: Thinkstock)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A bipartisan effort in the Florida Legislature to allow 75 mph speed limits on some highways is running into a roadblock from safety and consumer advocates.

“Raising the speed limit is essentially going to encourage people to drive faster,” John Ulczycki, vice president-of strategic initiatives with the National Safety Council, said during a news conference at the Florida Press Center. “They’re not just driving the speed limit, they will continue to drive 5 to 7 miles above the speed limit.”

According to Ulczycki, a 5 mph increase in the speed limit could result in 100 more traffic fatalities a year on Florida roads.

The proposed legislation would ask the state Department of Transportation to determine the safe minimum and maximum speed limits on all divided highways that have least four lanes.

The DOT would then be able to increase travel on the state’s “limited access highways” to 75 mph and raise the maximum posted limits on divided four-lane highways in sparsely populated rural areas from 65 mph to 70 mph. The DOT could also hike speeds by 5 mph, to 65 mph, on other roads they deem safe.

Florida’s highways have had a 70 mph maximum since 1996, the last time the speed limit was reviewed.

Ulczycki, who says that politics already won out over safety when highway limits were raised from 55 mph, said the push for even greater limits is from lawmakers nationwide for fewer laws and more convenience for people.

“I had one legislator tell me once that in his opinion, ‘safety is too much government,'” Ulczycki said.

Ulczycki said fatalities have dropped in part because of better roads, heightened safety in the automotive industry and a reduction in miles traveled by motorists as the economy went into recession.

Raising speed limits above 70 mph, as 16 states have done for select roads since the national speed limit was lifted in 1995, has led to more deaths from speeding accidents as reaction times are reduced and the severity of injuries is made greater, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va.

A 2009 study by the American Journal of Public Health found a 3 percent increase in road fatalities attributed to higher speeds after the 1995 repeal of the national speed limit, with the increase growing to 9 percent on rural interstates with higher limits.

Also, in the decade after the speed limit was raised in Nevada and New Mexico from 65 mph to 75 mph on rural interstates, the proportion of passenger vehicles exceeding 80 mph tripled in Nevada and nearly tripled in New Mexico, according to the Insurance Institute.

The proposal by Brandes and Clemens will be considered during the 2014 legislative session. Currently, there is no House sponsor for the proposal.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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