TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/News Service of Florida) – A measure that could raise the speed limits by 5 mph on Florida roads zipped through its final Senate stop on Thursday, despite bumping up against Appropriations Committee Chairman Joe Negron.

With a 15-4 vote, the panel approved the measure (SB 392) that directs the state Department of Transportation to determine the safe minimum and maximum speed limits on all divided highways that have at least four lanes.

Supporters of the bill say many drivers are already going faster than the current top rate of 70 mph. But critics, including Negron, say increasing speeds could lead to more accidents.

Negron, R-Stuart, contends that government-imposed speed limits have helped decrease highway injuries and fatalities because studies show that drivers have a greater likelihood of crashing at higher speeds.

“I think that once you start getting into the 80s and 90s that the opportunity for serious injury and death go up significantly,” said Negron, who noted that many motorists already drive nine to 10 mph above the posted limit.

The bill could eventually allow state transportation officials to increase speed limits on Florida’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 transportation department could hike speeds to 60 mph on other roads they deem safe. And the department would also have the authority to set minimum speeds on certain highways.

“What’s important is that people travel at the same speeds,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said after the meeting. “If you have people who are able to travel at a much higher speed, traveling with people who are traveling at a much lower speed, that’s what’s actually creating a much more dangerous situation on our highways.”

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

In other states, higher speed limits have resulted in more deaths from speeding accidents because drivers’ reaction times are reduced and the severity of injuries is intensified, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Senate proposal is now geared up for a full vote, but the House companion (HB 761) has been idling in the Economic Affairs Committee, the bill’s final scheduled stop, for more than three weeks.

This report is by The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner.


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