Remember back in the 1960s and ‘70s when motorists could cruise along at 70 miles per hour on Interstate highways? It’s not a done deal yet, but drivers might be able to legally go 70 again soon.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he does not oppose and would sign into law a bill that would increase the speed limit on rural Interstate highways to 70 miles per hour for cars and 65 for trucks. The only thing that would make more sense would be to allow trucks and cars to go the same speed. Traffic going at different speeds causes more accidents than the speed itself.
The bill passed out of the Senate's Commerce and Transportation Committee last week. It must still be approved by the full Senate and House and then signed by the governor before it becomes law. The bill’s chances for passages were unclear.
Higher speed limits are opposed by the insurance industry and by safety advocates who believe that higher speeds will increase accidents and insurance rates. They say increasing the speed limit will only tempt motorists to go faster than they already do.
But that belief is unsupported. Twenty-nine other states have already increased speed limits to at least 70 miles per hour. There is no indication that drivers in those states are speeding more often than they are in Indiana.
It’s true that the fatality rates for accidents in some states with the highest speed limits are greater than in Indiana. But it’s only common sense that if you crash into something going 70 or 75 you’ll be more likely to die than if you’re only going 60 or 65. It still should be up to the driver to decide if they want to take that extra risk.
I’m not a speed demon. Generally, I don’t drive more than five miles per hour over the speed limit. I still get passed more often than I pass others. But I do believe that Interstate highways were built for speed. They are generally safe as long as all traffic is moving along at approximately the same speed. Increasing the speed limit will make that happen.
Ideally, trucks and cars should all be allowed to go 70 miles per hour on rural Interstate highways. Obviously, motorists should reduce their speeds during inclement weather or during times of high traffic. But going 70 or even 75 miles per hour on a lightly-traveled rural stretch of highway is not that dangerous.
It won’t happen this year, but in addition to increasing speed limits on rural Interstates, consideration should be given to increasing speed limits on some multi-lane divided highways other than Interstates, too. For example, the speed limit on U.S. Highway 31 south of Franklin is only 55 miles per hour. This seems unnaturally slow for that stretch of highway. A speed limit of 65 would make more sense.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Gregory D. Server, R-Evansville. He said that people are going 70 anyway. We might as well make the law fit what people are doing.
It probably would bring more motorists into compliance with the law. More importantly, it would allow drivers to cruise along at the speeds that Interstate highways were built to support.
Speed limits increased every decade from the time the car was invented until 1973 when the Arab oil embargo prompted the federal government to mandate a nationwide 55 mile-per-hour limit in order to conserve gasoline.
That ban was eased in 1987 when Congress allowed higher speeds on rural Interstates. It eventually was lifted completely. And most states quickly increased their speed limits to pre-1973 levels. Indiana also increased its speed limit, but only to 65.
It’s time for us to take the final step and allow motorists the freedom to go 70 again.