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Speed limits

Published May 18. 2012 05:01PM

A bill to increase on the speed limit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike from 65 to 70 mph is being reviewed by House Republican leaders in the state House.

The legislation, which has been endorsed by the House Transportation Committee, is sponsored by Rep. Joe Preston, an Allegheny County Democrat who was defeated in the April 24 Primary. He says that motorists who spend 15,000 to 18,000 miles a year on the turnpike will notice a difference.

Pennsylvania is not alone in pursuing higher speed laws. Last summer, a number of other states decided to dial up their speed limits on certain highways. Both Louisiana and Kansas raised the speed limits on portions of their four-lane highways to 75 mph; while Ohio increased its speed limit to 70 mph.

Texas lawmakers also passed a measure to increase the speed limit on the wide-open western expanse of that state to 85 mph.

Speeds have been on a slow climb since the authority to set highway speed limits reverted back to the states in 1995. Before that, President Richard Nixon had enacted a national speed limit of 55 mph in response to the 1973 oil crisis and in 1987, the national limit was raised to 65 mph.

There are, however, experts and data to boost the argument against increasing speed limits. A study done in 2009 by the American Journal of Public Health attributed 12,545 deaths to increased speed limits during a 10-year stretch between 1995 and 2005.

Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said that while cars have become more crashworthy, studies show a clear connection between higher speeds and highway deaths.

People who are against raising the speed limit often return to that two-word warning phrase which all drivers have heard at one time in their lives: Speed kills.

Basic physics provides proof for that argument. The faster you go, the longer it takes to stop a vehicle. The response time breaks down like this:

• It takes one second to recognize an emergency and another second for a driver to react.

• A car traveling 65 mph travels 190 feet, or about 12 car lengths, in those two seconds.

• A car going 85 mph will travel 249 feet, or about 16 car lengths during that two-second reaction time.

Given these facts, state lawmakers need to take a very hard look at raising the speed limit, even if by just 5 mph. Many new vehicles these days are equipped with all the bells and whistles of a compact home entertainment system. Even that instant it takes to hit a select button can be enough to distract a driver and when we're clipping along at 70 mph, one second is critical in emergency response time.

By Jim Zbick

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