Senator says safety drives push for higher speed limit

Interstate 80 meets Highway 281 at Grand Island (NTV News)

Safety drives a push to increase Nebraska's speed limit, with a claim that higher limits are actually safer.

Engineers say speed limits should be set based on how people drive, and many push 80 on the interstate, so it may be safest to have speed limits that resemble what people actually do.

Sen. John Murante of Gretna said, “As cars become safer, as engineering on roads become better, people drive a little faster and speed limits need to be adjusted accordingly to make sure the pace of traffic is the same.”

Murante shared his proposal over coffee, at a roundtable event in Grand Island.

He says it's not about shaving a minute or two from commutes, but about policies based on good science.

“What the safety experts are telling us is crystal clear. We need to set the speed limit at the rate people are already driving. That's why this bill allows the experts, scientists at DOT the authority to raise speed limits from 75 to 80 miles per hour. They are going to make a fact- and data-based decision and that's what I think is the best policy,” he said.

Engineers like Steve Riehle, the Hall County engineer, agree with that assessment and many roads would change.

Murante said, “Almost every highway in the state of Nebraska will go up 5 miles per hour. Not every one, but nearly every one.”

Some would not meet the criteria, like older exits on the interstate that are shorter.

“So you take an 80,000 pound truck and they're not able to exit or enter the interstate safely so they're going to look at that as a safety concern,” said Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson.

The National Safety Council ranks Nebraska 35th for traffic safety, with high rates of distracted driving and lack of seatbelt use.

Some trucking companies say it'll create a greater speed difference, and more crashes.

All of the discussions may be for naught, as the bill has yet to advance to the full legislature.

Friesen, the Transportation Committee Chairman said, “It needs a priority designation or it's not going to go anywhere this year.”

Halfway through a legislative session that's yet to tackle budget cuts or tax relief, the proposal may hit a dead end without being designated a priority.

The bill has the backing of the governor. The head of the Department of Transportation says in states where this has been done, any drivers go the same speed they had been.

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