AAA cautions N.D. lawmakers

AAA is urging North Dakota lawmakers to exercise caution as they consider raising speed limits on certain highways.

As introduced, HB 1264 would increase the speed limit on interstate highways to 80 mph and on multi-lane divided highways to 75 mph. Current requirements are 75 mph and 70 mph, respectively.

“While AAA is not philosophically opposed to raising a given speed limit, we have reservations regarding the current proposal,” says Gene LaDoucer, North Dakota spokesman for AAA-The Auto Club Group. “It’s our view that maximum speed limits should be established with the goals of improving mobility, respect for the law and most importantly, motorist safety. Factors such as prevailing speeds determined by engineering measurements; collision history; and roadside development characteristics must be considered.”

AAA points out that changing speed limits has consequences:

• Research shows that as speeds go up, so do fatal crashes. A 2016 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that each 5 mph increase in the speed limit is associated with an 8-percent increase in fatality rates on interstates and freeways and a 4-percent increase on other roads.

• Not all vehicles, nor individuals driving them, can safely travel at the current speed limit. Raising the speed limit will increase closing speeds, reduce reaction time and increase crash severity.

• A higher speed limit will likely have a disproportionately negative impact on young, inexperienced drivers, a group already overrepresented in speed-related crashes. This goes hand-in-hand with inexperience and not understanding when conditions warrant a slower speed.

• Speeds are already exceeding the capabilities of vehicle headlights. Recent AAA test results found that the most advanced headlight systems available provide adequate lighting for maximum speeds of 48 mph to 55 mph.

• If reducing the number of speed-related traffic citations issued is a goal of higher speed limits, the opposite may result. In the two-year period following the 2015 increase in South Dakota’s speed limits, the number of speed-related tickets issued increased nearly 50 percent.

“While today’s vehicles are safer, it can be argued that those driving them are not,” says LaDoucer. “Impairment, distractions, aggression, not using seat belts and exceeding safe speeds, among others, all contribute to an unacceptable level of death and injury on our highways. Only after a thorough review of all factors related to the safety of road users should a speed limit increase be considered.”

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