The Texas Legislature passed two bills over to the State Senate this week, relating to speed limits in the state. While I haven’t been closely watching the legislative session this year, its interesting to see what they’re working on.
The first of these bills got national attention, and is somewhat misunderstood is actually part of HB 1201 that cancels the unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor.
To put “Section 11” of the bill into perspective, any new highway section opened after June 1, 2011 and is designed to handle it, can have an 85 MPH speed limit. Each section must operate at lower speed limits for at least the first year to allow for traffic flows to stabilize on the road before the higher limit can be applied.
For those of us that commute from Houston to San Antonio, Austin or Dallas, it may be a while before we’d see it, since I-10, I-45 and US 290 are all many years away from any reconstruction project that could allow the higher limits. Not even the “fast” 80 MPH sections of I-10 and I-20 in Western Texas will see those speeds anytime soon.
But, never fear, HB 1353 may bring relief on those routes. Passed out of the House on April 15th, it now faces a similar Senate hurdle to HB 1201.
If signed into law, HB 1353 abolishes the reduced “Night” speed limit on all state highways as of September 1. At the same time all those signs come down, the limit on all eligible highways will increase from 70 to 75 MPH, of course based on the outcome of an engineering survey to prove the roadway is safe at the higher speed.
According to Gary Elkins (R-Houston), who authored HB 1353, Texas is the only state that still requires motorists to slow down at night. The other 49 states (56 if using Obama’s math) eliminated the speed difference years ago.
Of course, these proposals immediately bring out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and their usual twisted tails of higher accident and fatality rates when the speed increases. That is simply not true, and the IIHS bias shows through, since they are funded by the Insurance Companies directly (who want to pay less in claims, and use the IIHS “findings” as an excuse to drive their lobbying activity).
In fact, a 2005 study by the German Federal Interior Ministry reviewed the accident statistics for the autobahn network, and found that highway sections with no speed limit had no higher rate of crashes than areas where limits were imposed.
So why does the accident rate not increase at higher speeds? Part of it is attributed to the increased focus by the driver on the road. When speed jumps from 60 MPH to 90 MPH, a driver traverses a mile in 45 seconds versus 60 seconds. Likewise the jump to higher speeds, like 120 MPH (or the insane 180 MPH that can be achieved by some cars on the autobahn) a mile is traversed every 30 seconds. Distractions just cannot happen, and the driver has to be focused. It takes longer to stop, and they have to consider those factors. Things like cell phones, MP3 players, and GPS’s are not manipulated by the driver (if not avoided at all) when operating at those fast speeds.
Surprisingly, most of the Autobahn where there is no limit averages 80-90 MPH. There is a regulatory minimum of approximately 40 MPH. Other factors, like keeping right except to pass, anti-tailgating laws, and other strictly enforced safety laws make the Autobahn very safe (the police typically run a large number of unmarked vehicles on the Autobahn, patrolling for violators – and violations can quickly add up to hefty fines or even jail time).
Could it be done here? Absolutely. The limiting factors here in Texas (and also the rest of the United States for that matter) is the condition of the roads that could not stand the super high speeds. Also, most Americans don’t know the rules of “polite” driving on the freeways – things most Europeans have been trained in over many decades – creating additional hazards to faster speeds.
While I hope both bills make it through to the Governor, and that he will sign it (although I’m not holding my breath on HB 1201, since the Trans-Texas Corridor was Governor Perry’s pet project). HB 1381 is showing good odds, and we all could be traveling across the state just a bit faster.