Pushing the limit

Published:

The Winchester Sun

Will Kentucky soon join 30 other states where its legal for motorists to drive 70 miles per hour? The Kentucky Senate voted 34-2 last week in favor of a measure to increase the speed limit on the states interstates and parkways by five miles an hour and to raise it to 65 on other state highways with four or more lanes.

The higher speed limit was proposed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher in his State of the Commonwealth address last month. Legislation is pending in the House to allow motorists to legally drive 70, and expectations are that it will fare favorably. Chances are most motorists will welcome the higher speed limit by mashing down on the accelerators of their vehicles, and therein lies the problem.

Kentuckys posted maximum speed limit on interstates and parkways currently may be 65 miles per hour, but any motorist heeding that speed limit is an exception. Indeed, most motorists are traveling anywhere from 5 to 10 miles over the present speed limit, if not more. House Speaker Jody Richards was clearly on target in discussing the higher speed limit when he said If it passes, I hope we can slow people down to 70.

We hope so, too.

Most motorists know that there arent enough law enforcement officers to adequately monitor Kentuckys roads for speeders. They also assume that they can drive five-eight miles per hour over the speed limit and not be stopped. Indeed, check out the flow of traffic on Kentuckys interstates. Most traffic is moving at 73-75 miles per hour, with some motorists driving 80 or faster. As one of the two senators who voted against the higher speed limit noted, You create a sort of cushion in your mind that you can go beyond the speed limit and not get pulled over, and we just increased that cushion by 5 miles per hour.

We hope hes wrong. Theres nothing wrong with a 70-mile per hour limit on Kentuckys interstates and parkways; they were designed for traffic to move as fast as 75 miles per hour. Unfortunately, no one is heeding the current 65 mph speed limit. If the House OKs the higher limit, will motorists be content to drive the 70 or 75 they now drive, or will some of them push 80, even 85? If they do, it will result in more injuries and more fatalities, because the faster one drives, the less time a driver has to react if another motorist changes lanes without warning or stops suddenly.

Kentucky recorded 984 traffic deaths in 2005 and by mid-February had 108 this year. Clearly we are on track for another deadly year on state roads, and a higher speed limit could exacerbate the problem. If the House joins the Senate in approving higher speed limits, and we expect it will, then the General Assembly also should make 2006 the year in which it approves a primary seat belt law, allowing law enforcement officers to stop any motorist they see not using a seat belt.

Estimates are that only 67 percent of Kentuckians buckle up, ranking us 47th in the nation in seat belt usage. Seat belts save lives, and if motorists are going to be allowed to drive faster, they should at least be made to buckle up.

At the same time, the General Assembly should increase fines for speeding on interstates and parkways and allocate additional funds to Kentucky State Police for enforcement of the states speed limit laws. If motorists want to drive 70, fine. But they should obey the speed limit, not push it by five or 10 miles an hour and needlessly jeopardize their safety and that of those with whom they share the road.

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