Will New 70 MPH Interstate Speeds Cause More Crashes?

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On July 1st, ODOT will re-sign certain sections of rural Ohio Interstates. That could result in fewer speeding tickets, but safety advocates say it will make Ohio roadways more dangerous.(Photo: Flickr)
On July 1st, ODOT will re-sign certain sections of rural Ohio Interstates. That could result in fewer speeding tickets, but safety advocates say it will make Ohio roadways more dangerous.(Photo: Flickr)

The speed limit on rural stretches of Ohio interstates will increase July 1st to 70 miles per hour. Governor John Kasich signed the bill into law earlier this week. But higher speeds have reignited debate over safety concerns.

Trooper Chad Duzan pulls his state highway patrol cruiser onto the median of Interstate 71.

“My radar is mounted on the outside of the car,” Duzan says. “It makes it a lot easier to watch the vehicles and get a speed estimate.”

Duzan also uses a hand-held laser speed detector which can track cars and trucks as they approach or drive away.

“We all have our standards on what we start stopping cars at. We all give a buffer zone. It’s unwritten and unsaid,” Duzan says.

After more than an hour, Duzan clocks a Buick traveling at 83 miles per hour. With his blue lights flashing he pulls the car over and writes the driver a ticket.

“He had assumed it was a 70 miles per hour speed zone; just heading to Columbus from Lexington, Kentucky. He had his grandkids in the car. 18 miles per hour over the posted limit I feel that that’s well beyond reason,” Duzan says.

While Duzan and other troopers patrol the interstates, higher speed limits raise the larger issue of a potential increase in traffic injuries and even fatalities. Anne McCartt of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that’s the downside to driving faster.

“When speed limits go up, speeds go up and eventually they will exceed the new speed limit,” McCartt says. “And eventually, crashes, more injuries, more deaths will occur.”

State Sen. Gayle Manning argues that that’s not necessarily the case. She says better road design and safer cars allow for higher speeds.

“We had heard from many of our constituents, many businesses that we needed to be more competitive. There are already 35 other states that are at least 70 if not 75 and money is time and people are trying to get to work a little bit quicker and they’re trying to get their supplies a little bit quicker and so we really had not had a lot of push back from anyone on this,” Manning says.

Along I-71 between Cincinnati and Columbus, as Trooper Duzan looks for speeders, a display on the dash shows that most of the traffic is moving along at about 65 miles per hour. An occasional vehicle drives past at 70. McCartt says a new 70 mile per hour speed limit will simply tempt some drivers to drive 75.

“When the speed limit is raised people will set a new target because most people believe, probably pretty accurately, that they’re not going to get a citation until they’re exceeding the speed limit, let’s say, by five miles an hour. People don’t think they’re going to get a ticket if they’re going a little bit above the speed limit,” McCartt says.

But Sen. Manning says she’s heard nothing about the increased risks of driving faster. She says improvements in auto and road safety make higher speeds feasible.

“Our roads are safer, they’re rural areas, you know like on 71. You know, there’s nothing around there. Our cars are safer; they’re just made better,” says Manning.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has already begun studying which sections of rural interstates will be raised to 70 miles per hour. ODOT says new speed limit signs will be installed on July 1st.

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