What would speed limit changes mean for safety?

In this April 1, 2015 file photo, a semi-truck passes by a newly posted 80 mph speed limit sign on Interstate 90 near Brandon, S.D. (AP Photo/Kevin Burbach, File)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Word that the Michigan legislature is considering increasing speed limits on some rural highways to as high as 80 is creating a lot of buzz — and also raising concerns about safety.

The state House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday approved the package of bills to increase the speed limits on rural stretches of highway to 75 or 80 mph, bringing it one step closer to reality.

It’s a fact that the faster you are driving, the harder you will crash, but some argue that drivers are already reaching speeds of 80 mph or more.

“I think the legislation, the law is starting to catch up with how people normally drive now,” Bill Failey, a personal injury attorney, told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday. “I think we all know the general rule is people usually go five to 10 mph faster than the speed limit.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation agrees. A study it conducted in 2014 found that on average, drivers in a 70 mph zone instead drove 77 mph. Apply that to 75 or 80 mph zone and you’re looking at drivers going 85 or 90 mph. Failey said he’s not sure if that’s good or bad.

“It’s a good thing everyone wants to get somewhere faster,” he said. “I just think we need to be more safe and make sure we use a little bit more caution while driving.”

Unsurprisingly, MDOT also found that the number of fatal crashes increases with higher speeds. In states with maximum speed limits of 75 mph, it found fatalities increased by 54 percent.

“Ten miles an hour doesn’t sound like a lot but it really can be,” Failey said. “Now you are doing 80, maybe you are only getting down to 50 or 60 mph (when you hit the brakes).

“I think it’s undoubtable there’s going to be more serious accidents. Are there going to be more accidents? I don’t know,” he continued.

MDOT is not taking a stance on whether the speed limits should be raised, but it concluded in its 2014 study that increasing limits should be considered only for sections of roadway that are straight shots and won’t need any engineering changes.

The speed increase being considered in the state legislature would only apply to rural highways. That includes U.S., M-, and I-routes.

The package of bills now heads to the House floor for more debate. This is the third time the speed hike has been discussed by lawmakers.

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