By John Celock
A proposal to raise the speed limit to 80 miles per hour on interstate highways in rural Kansas was defeated by lawmakers Tuesday, while another rural road speed hike was approved.
The state House of Representatives voted 24-90 to kill a proposed amendment to raise the speed limit on rural interstates from 75 to 80. The amendment came to a bill that would allow the state Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit on certain rural roads from 65 to 70 miles per hour.
“Kansas is mostly flat as is Texas,” Rep. John Bradford (R-Lansing), the amendment’s sponsor said of a state with an 80 MPH speed limit. “The remaining states are for the most part mountainous and they have 80 mile per hour speed limits”
In addition to Texas, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Montana have 80 MPH speed limits on interstate highways in rural parts of the state. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association Idaho, Texas, Wyoming and Utah allow the 80 MPH speed limit on specified parts of the rural interstate. GHSA noted that South Dakota has an 80 MPH speed limit on urban sections of the interstate, while Wyoming and Utah allow for 80 MPH on specific sections of the urban parts of the interstate. GHSA’s summary said that Texas allows for speed limits of up to 85 MPH on specific parts of the urban and rural interstate system.
Kansas currently has a 75 MPH speed limit on the rural interstate and 70 MPH on the urban interstate. Bradford said in his speech that the speed had been 70 MPH until 1974 when it was dropped to 55 MPH due to the energy crisis and then slowly rose to 75 MPH in 2011.
“Many of us remember the torture of driving at 55 especially driving cross country,” Bradford said.
Bradford’s amendment would have kept a 10 mile per hour buffer zone above 80 for tickets, meaning that those ticketed for driving up to 90 miles per hour would not have the ticket reported to their insurance company. Under questioning, Bradford said he did not mean for people to drive at 90, but said most now drive above 75 on the interstate. He said that drivers could choose to drive below 80 in the right lane.
Opponents of the Bradford amendment noted a bill to raise the speed limit to 80 had died in the House Transportation Committee. Rep. Adam Lusker (D-Pittsburg), the top Democrat on the Transportation Committee, said the panel heard opposition from the Kansas Department of Transportation, the Kansas Motor Carriers Association and law enforcement to 80 miles per hour. Lusker said that Bradford was the only person to speak in favor of the proposal to the committee.
The Bradford amendment received opposition on the floor from Rep. John Doll (R-Garden City) who was carrying the main bill and from House Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Proehl (R-Parsons).
Several lawmakers questioned Bradford over the safety impact of raising the speed limit on the interstate, noting that higher speeds could lead to more accidents or more serious accidents. Bradford said he did not see more accidents occurring and noted that increases in vehicle safety would prevent accidents from being more serious. House Democratic Policy Chairman John Wilson (D-Lawrence) questioned Bradford if there would be an increase in insurance rates with the higher speed limit, Bradford said he did not know.
Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dington) questioned distracted driving at higher speeds, noting concern over drivers who text while driving.
“There are way too many inattentive drivers,” he said.
Bradford received support on the floor from Rep. Mike Kiegerl (R-Olathe) who noted that there is no speed limit on the Autobahn in his native Germany. Kiegerl talked about he would take employees of his to Frankfurt for work and they’d meet up with his sister who would drive them on the Autobahn at high speeds. Kiegerl reported that all of his employees returned alive from Germany.
“I don’t know what five miles per hour would do,” Kiegerl said of any safety impact of the higher speed.
House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) took to Twitter during the debate to say that interstate roads in Kansas were designed for the higher speed limit. He said that it would help commerce flow through the state.
Trucks choosing I-70 brings commerce along our top 5 transportation network. Our roads are engineered to handle 80 mph. #ksleg
— Rep. J.R. Claeys (@jrclaeys) February 23, 2016
Claeys told The Celock Report that he believes that speed limit decisions should be made by engineers, while noting that he believes that drivers will drive at slower speeds when conditions warrant.
“These should be determined by the engineers at KDOT and not guys in Topeka or Washington, D.C.,” Claeys said. “You should exercise judgment though when driving based on conditions that require 75 or 65 or 55 or below. A limit is a limit, it is not the speed you go.”
The main bill passed without Bradford’s amendment. The main bill would allow the Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit on state owned rural roads from 65 to 70 based on the determination of the department. Doll noted that much of the state is rural and flat which would allow for the speed limit to be raised. The main bill exempts the interstate system.
The speed limit for the rural roads received wide spread support in the House.
While some were saying that Bradford’s proposal would not have a safety issue, Rep. Leslie Osterman (R-Wichita) said that he believes it would.
“You are looking at a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “I’m not going to have it on me that I raised a speed limit that caused more deaths in our state.”