Need for speed drives more highway leeway


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Source: AAA

By Karl Henkel

Sammy Hagar insisted he couldn’t drive 55, and starting today, going so slow would put him farther behind motorists racing by on the Ohio Turnpike.

For the first time since 1973, drivers can — legally — reach 70 miles per hour on the turnpike.

The previous speed limit was 65; the new limit applies to all vehicles, including trucks.

The increase should escalate toll revenues because it will be the quickest method of transportation, according to the Turnpike Commission.

It also should shorten commute times, especially for those driving the full turnpike length — all 241 miles stretching the width of Ohio — who could complete the journey in 15 fewer minutes. (A person willing to test the boundaries and set the cruise control to 80 would save 41 minutes.)

Though cars now can travel slightly faster, it doesn’t matter to some, who regularly ignore and surpass any posted speed limit. In fact, very few ever received a ticket in the suddenly legal 66-to-70 mile-per-hour range, according to stats acquired from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which ticketed 1,304 drivers for speeding citations in that scope from 2006 to 2009. That number represents less than 1 percent of the nearly 150,000 speeding tickets issued on the turnpike. (In fact, more drivers were cited for driving too slowly — less than 26 miles per hour — over the same period.)

While technically against the law, those citations were within the much-popularized “five over” category, a generalization that officers won’t issue citations if drivers are within 5 miles per hour of the posted speed limit.

OSHP Capt. Shawn Davis didn’t say whether officers will observe the same unwritten rule.

“Officers can write tickets for any speed over the limit,” he said. “Our hope is people will adhere to the speed limit.”

In comparison, 71 percent of all speeding citations issued on the turnpike from 2006 to ’09 were levied on drivers caught speeding from 80 to 89 miles per hour. Sixteen percent were busted from 71 to 79, and 9 percent from 90 to 99.

Ohio becomes the 34th state to increase the speed limit to 70 or higher on a rural interstate; drivers can go as fast as 80 in Texas and Utah on select freeways.

Iowa implemented a speed limit of 70 on most rural interstates in 2005. Iowa State University in 2009 released a report that found following the initial six months after the speed increase, the number of serious crashes escalated, but afterward, nearly all crash types decreased.

The report also revealed drivers traveling at speeds up to 10 miles per hour over the limit decreased by more than half.

Davis said the switch from 65 to 70 is “uncharted territory” for officers and noted that the number of accidents may not increase, but “with additional speed comes additional damage.”

Additional speed also comes with additional worry for some, such as the Ohio Trucking Association, which disagrees with the change.

President Larry Davis said it will make things more hectic on the turnpike because some trucks will continue to drive 65 miles per hour, not by choice, but by restriction.

“Many trucks are governed for 63, 64 mile-per-hour max,” he said. “We felt 65 was a proper limit for cars and trucks.”

Davis said the difference in speeds shouldn’t affect the flow of traffic.

“We usually have that on some roadways today,” he said. “I think people have kind of become accustomed to it.”

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