January 29, 2016
Transportation officials in Pennsylvania are analyzing statewide accident statistics and driver behavior to evaluate the possibility of expanding 70 mph zones to new locations along the state's 1,900 miles of interstate and 550 miles of turnpike.
Working with researchers from Penn State University and the Pennsylvania State Police, PennDOT is examining data collected from its 11 engineering districts with the intent of completing a preliminary report on its findings in the spring, according to New Castle News.
The push for higher speed limits in the United States gained momentum after Congress eliminated the 65 mph ceiling in 1995. Over the next 20 years, 38 states bumped speed limits up to 70 mph on certain roadways.
In Pennsylvania, the $2.3 billion transportation bill that raised the state's gas tax in 2013 opened the door to a potential expansion of 70 mph highway zones. While the bill helped formalize weight restrictions for truckers traversing state and local bridges, it also helped create 70 mph zones on more than 200 miles of highway along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Interstate 80 and Interstate 380.
The primary concern of PennDOT's analysis is to figure out whether increased speed limits would compromise road safety or otherwise adversely impact the behavior of drivers. Penn State's researchers have not yet found concrete evidence linking higher speed limits to motor vehicle accidents in Pennsylvania. In fact, in 2014, just one in ten of the 1,195 road deaths in Pennsylvania came as a result of crashes on interstates and the turnpike.
Professional truckers strongly support expanding 70 mph zones, which would enable them to achieve greater efficiency while remaining compliant with labor regulations.
“As a trucker, you have limits on how much time you can spend behind the wheel, so if we can get places faster, that’s going to be good,” said Kevin Stewart, director of safety for the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association.
Although it would be logical to expect driver speeds to increase with a raised limit, the New Castle News cites a 2006 study that found an average increase of just 3 mph after a 10 mph increase. It's even a possibility that drivers, in general, travel at faster speeds than the posted limits, according to a recent study by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Still, the Federal Highway Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety believe that increases in speed limits ultimately produce more crashes.
Richard Kirkpatrick, spokesman for PennDOT, said that any potential 70 mph expansions could eventually be reverted to 65 mph if data reveal it's in the best interest of road safety. A final report on the analysis of additional 70 mph zones is due to be published at the end of June.