Beginning as a response to an oil shortage, the federal government imposed the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act – a 55 mph national speed limit on interstate highways. In 1987, Congress raised the federally mandated speed limit to 65 mph.
Federal regulations were eliminated in 1995, giving state legislatures the authority to determine maximum speed limits on highways and expressways within their individual jurisdictions.
In August, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation to raise the interstate speed limit in Illinois to 70 mph. Once the law goes into effect in January 2014, Wisconsin will remain one of the few states as well as the sole Midwest state still adhering to the 1987 federally mandated 65 mph speed limit.
There are presently 21 states posting a 70 mph speed limit. Legislation has been introduced to increase Wisconsin’s interstate speed to the country’s median speed limit.
Rep. Paul Tittl, R –Manitowoc, authored and I co-sponsored Assembly Bill 389, which increases the maximum speed limit on freeways and expressways from 65 mph to 70 mph.
Expressways are defined in the bill as a roadway with four or more lanes separated by a median or barrier which allows access to through traffic only at interchanges. Freeways differ by allowing some access to through traffic at limited grade level roads and driveways.
“Safety continues to be the priority, and this legislation preserves the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) ability to lower speed limits in order to preserve public safety,” according to Tittl. “The Wisconsin statutes already give the DOT that authority, and there is nothing in this bill prohibiting the DOT from lowering limits on any roads where there is a need to do so for safety reasons based on engineering studies.”
Those in opposition to raising the speed limit fear a greater disparity between speeders and slower drivers causing more accidents and increasing the probability of fatalities or severe injuries.
Supporters refute those misconceptions. As a case in point, Michigan raised its speed limit to 70 miles per hour in 2005. For the previous 30 years, their limit was 55 mph. Although people against raising the speed limit feared speeders would travel increasingly faster, Lt. Gary Megge, a traffic expert with the Michigan State Police refuted the perception.
According to Megge; “There were some subtle changes. We saw fewer slow drivers and fewer drivers going really fast. Ideally, the more people you can get going at a similar speed, the safer it will be.”
A public hearing was held for AB 389 on Oct. 1 by the Assembly Committee on Transportation. An executive session followed on Oct.10th with a 9-6 vote to send the bill to the full Assembly for debate.
Increasing Wisconsin’s speed limit to 70 mph will reflect the country’s average while ensuring our roads remain safe. Overwhelmingly, constituent feedback has been positive. I plan to vote yes on raising Wisconsin’s speed limit to 70 miles per hour.