Opponents On Possible Speed Limit Increase: Not So Fast

Dec 20, 2013

Statistics presented by those opposed to a potential speed limit hike in Florida.
Credit Stan Jastrzebski

As he was decrying the possibility that speed limits of Florida interstates could rise to 75 miles per hour, National Safety Council Vice President John Ulczycki noted there is a method to keep speeders from traveling recklessly fast.

“The one strategy that works to save lives in speeding is enforcement," he says. "People speed because they can.  Because nothing bad happens to them and because they’re not going to get a ticket.”

Standing to Ulczycki’s right was Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel, who spent three decades as a highway patrolman before being elected to his current post. Creel acknowledged what any officer will say about traffic patrols – there’s leeway given to any driver exceeding the posted limit –and it changes from officer to officer.

“I used to get on the interstate and I would work and I would set my limit at 20 miles an hour over and it was one after the other,” Creel says.

Asked if enforcement really could be better, Creel ducked the question by noting Florida statute disallows tickets written for traveling less than six miles per hour over the limit. But aren’t there plenty of drivers who travel between 6 and 9 over who don’t get tickets and couldn't enforcement be better? 

"Yeah, it could be better, the sheriff allows. "But you’re going after the 4-point buck where there’s an 8-point buck out there.

But Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), one of the bill's sponsors, says he’s focused on the difference between the speeds of cars on the road. 

“Many people are driving on certain stretches of roads today and they’ll do that tomorrow. I’m saying speed limits should accurately reflect what people are actually driving,” Brandes says.

And at first glance, there might be some physics and some logic to back Brandes up. The argument goes like this: if speed limits come up, drivers are encouraged to travel at speeds some cars are already doing. Then think about collisions: if a car traveling 71 miles per hour rear-ends one traveling 70 in the same direction, the speed of that collision is only one mile per hour. But if the car in front then veers from its path, the odds are no longer in favor of the car or its passengers.

“The fatality rate is coming down across the board on all kinds of roads because we have safer cars. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve repealed the laws of physics,” says Insurance Institute for Highway Safety spokesman Russ Rader, who's  among those who say raising limits takes lives instead of saving them. His feelings mirror those expressed Thursday.

But the bill is likely to get at least one hearing in the Florida Senate, no matter how much opposition is raised. That’s because the legislation has been assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee -- which bill author Brandes chairs.