EDITORIAL: Highways can handle higher speed limit

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Admit it. Many of us already drive faster than the 65 mph speed limit on area highways.

While keeping within an extra 5 or 10 mph of the speed limit trying to avoid a speeding ticket, most of us manage to do it safely.

Our cars these days are geared toward driving at higher speeds, with more safety features and better tires. Onboard computers help us maintain a uniform speed, correct us when we drift out of our lanes, alert us to other vehicles in our blind spots, help us better control our vehicles when we’re trying to avoid a crash, and better manage our gas mileage.

After 30 years under a 65 mph speed limit, it’s time for New York lawmakers to allow us to travel a bit faster, by raising the maximum speed limit to 70 mph or even 75. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara last week proposed legislation (A5044/S2209) to raise the limit to 70 mph on 17 roadways, including portions of the Thruway and Adirondack Northway.

New York would join 40 other states that allow drivers to go faster than 65 on all or parts of rural interstates. That list includes wide open states like Texas, Montana and the Dakotas, but also more congested states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland and Virginia.

Studies are mixed about whether higher speed limits on highways significantly impact safety. Of course, higher speeds result in more violent collisions; that’s physics. But some studies have shown the negative impact on safety is negligible when the speed limit is raised from 65 to 70.

While the higher speed limit should pose no problems for large portions of state highways, there are places where the 65 mph speed limit should remain in place. Only 21 states allow speed limits over 65 on highways in urban areas.

As with any highway, road conditions should factor into whether to raise the speed limit. For instance, there are portions of some highways that narrow or curve or rise and fall, for which a higher speed limit would be unsafe.

Also consider that drivers will naturally exceed the higher limit, as they do with the 65 mph limit, meaning cars facing a 70 mph limit might push their speeds to 80, a potentially more dangerous situation. To curb that, lawmakers should consider boosting enforcement and penalties for drivers who exceed the new higher speed limit.

And of course, drivers always need to adjust their speed to the condition of the road, weather, traffic and highway construction, regardless of what the speed limit sign says.

Highways and vehicles have come a long way in the past 30 years.

Our speed limits should reflect those changes.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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