Archive for December 8th, 2014|Daily archive page

80 mph speed limit for Christmas?

The commonly accepted speed on many rural Michigan interstates under normal, uncongested road conditions is at least 80 mph. This is the speed most of our cars are made to move on such roads under ideal conditions. And it is the speed most of us drive, despite the white signs routinely commanding 10 mph slower.

Drive east on I-96 out of Lansing at 70 mph for a half hour on a nice sunny day with light traffic and you will be swiftly passed by just about every passenger car on the road, including both the police and metro-Detroit area lawmakers heading home.

Making the law conform to the obvious fact of how most of us live our lives is the intent of legislation that may yet pass this month during the lame-duck session of the Michigan Legislature. The proposal would give the Michigan State Police and MDOT the power to set speed limits at 80 mph on many roads where most of us are comfortable driving this fast.

Both the MSP and the traffic geeks at MDOT were supportive of the concept when Republican State Sen. Rick Jones – a former police officer – introduced a similar version of the proposal this spring. When the cops want silly speed laws changed, and most of us seem to be driving as if we want them changed as well, it would seem an easy decision for lawmakers. But it hasn’t happened yet.

It takes a lawyer to explain when common sense isn’t winning.

“This package of bills is horrific,” wrote auto accident attorney Steven Gursten, in an April blog post denouncing the previous version of the 80 mph concept.

“Speed kills,” the counselor-busybody assures us three times before predicting a hike in road carnage that isn’t worth it just “so people can get to Starbucks, the mall or the office a few seconds quicker.”

His choice of examples is revealing. Both shopping malls and Starbucks locations are obviously and disproportionately placed in areas with dense population, thus not as likely to be on the “rural” interstates where the higher proposed speed limit would apply. And if you’re headed to the office, particularly in a densely populated area, then it’s probably during a very congested and horribly misnamed “rush” hour wherein everybody’s barely moving at all.

But leaving that aside, “speed” doesn’t kill. If it did, we’d already be dead. Remember: The proposal gives traffic experts the authority to move legal speed limits up to the level where most of us have already been traveling. The MSP reports that using this “85th percentile rule” properly can produce subtle but very positive changes to traffic flow: While average speeds don’t change, faster drivers slow down and slower drivers speed up.

What speed really does is makes our lives longer and richer, rather than shorter. If that were not true, we’d slow our cars down to 60 mph, or 40, or discard them entirely as too dangerous.

You’ll add more than a half hour back to your life each week if a 60 mile round trip daily commute is done at 80 mph rather than 70 mph.

Six hours is saved on a drive from Michigan to Disney World and back if the average rate of travel (including food and gas stops) is a bit more than 60 mph rather than 50 mph. Combined for a family of four, that’s a 24 hour day saved.

A lack of speed really would kill, slowly but surely, precious hours we cannot recover if the wrong people can make us do without it.

As read on: