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Speed limit hike proposal could effect Parkway

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Published:   |   Updated: January 12, 2014 at 12:28 PM

BROOKSVILLE - Although it might seem the speed limit on the Suncoast Parkway is 75 to 80 mph, motorists still are expected to abide by the posted 70-mph rule.

That could change if advocates of a faster speed limit have their way.

Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, have proposed a bill that would direct the state Department of Transportation to determine safe minimum and maximum speed limits on all divided highways having at least four lanes.

The transportation department then would be able to increase travel on the state's "limited access highways" to 75 mph and raise the maximum posted limits on divided four-lane highways in sparsely populated rural areas from 65 mph to 70 mph. State officials also could hike speeds by 5 mph, to 65 mph, on other roads they deem safe.

The proposal by Brandes and Clemens will be considered during the 2014 legislative session. Currently, there is no House sponsor for the proposal.

Local law enforcement officials are taking a wait-and-see stance.

Steve Gaskins with the Florida Highway Patrol said his agency has not been asked for an opinion.

If it is asked, Gaskins said the patrol would contact other states that have increased speed limits to 75 mph to see if there has been a rise or decrease in traffic crashes.

Gaskins said most of those states are in the western part of the country and include Texas, Montana and Wyoming where there are long stretches of rural highway.

"The FHP will support whatever the legislators decide to do," Gaskins said.

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said increasing the speed limit on some local roads, especially on the Suncoast Parkway where traffic is light, might not be a bad idea. The bill would require a traffic engineer to examine each road to determine potential effects on raising the limit.

"I would have to look at each one on a case-by-case basis," Nienhuis said "There are probably some roads where increasing the speed limit five miles an hour wouldn't have a drastic impact on their safety. But, then again, there are other roads where I feel it would be a bad idea."

Nienhuis said studies show that driving 75 mph doesn't get motorists any faster to their destinations than 70 mph.

The federal government in 1995 did away with the nationwide 55 mph maximum speed limit and allowed states to set their own limits. Florida has had a maximum speed limit of 70 mph since 1996.

Today's vehicles are safer, and going faster doesn't represent the safety concern it once did, Nienhuis said. Also, some roads are engineered for faster speeds, he added.

But much depends on where the limits would be raised.

For example, while the northern leg of the Suncoast Parkway probably would warrant such an increase in speed, the southern stretch, or Veterans Expressway, would not because there is more traffic, he said.

And Nienhuis said it is true motorists are more apt to pay attention to their driving the faster they are going.

Still raising the limit is a tough call, the sheriff said, and he will watch how the legislative bill fares.

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A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report issued in December stated almost half of drivers surveyed say speeding is a problem.

One in five drivers surveyed said, in essence, they try to get where they're going as fast as possible, according to the NHTSA website.

Speeding-related deaths nationwide account for nearly a third of all traffic fatalities each year, taking close to 10,000 lives, the NHTSA reported.

Representatives from the National Safety Council and the Consumer Federation of the Southeast also have come out against the proposal.

But Brandes and Clemens, in a joint statement with the National Motorists Association, said the bill makes sense.

"The data indicates that many drivers are already traveling at these speeds on highways and traffic research shows that traveling with the free flow of traffic is safer for the motoring public," Brandes said in the release.

The National Motorists Association supports the higher speed limits and disputes the NHTSA contention that 30 percent of all fatal accidents are speed related.

"This means that in less than a third of the cases, one of the drivers involved in the accident was 'assumed' to be exceeding the posted limit," according to the NMA. "It does not mean that speeding caused the accident."

Research conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation showed the percentage of accidents actually caused by speeding is 2.2 percent, the NMA said.

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

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