Higher speed limit would cost lives

The cost of increasing the speed limit to 80 mph includes the loss of more Kansans’ lives.
The cost of increasing the speed limit to 80 mph includes the loss of more Kansans’ lives.

The state puts the price tag of raising the speed limit to 80 mph on some highways at just $20,000, for signs and administrative expenses. But the statistics since the 2011 increase from 70 to 75 mph promise another toll – Kansans’ lives.

In the two years before the speed limit rose in mid-2011 on 807 miles of seven Kansas highways, 48 people were killed in 38 crashes. In the two years afterward, 74 people died in 59 accidents and injuries also increased by 13 percent.

Another speed limit hike will invite similar results.

And the 80 mph speed limit bill would effectively drive speeds even higher, because it says those pulled over going up to 90 mph could not be cited for a moving traffic violation. Another bill, advanced by a House committee last week, could lead to 5 mph increases on certain rural highways with current limits of 55 mph and 70 mph.

The case for a higher limit was more clear in 2011, even though drivers were paying far more at the pump. Then, lawmakers were looking to recapture some of the long-distance truckers and other travelers bypassing Kansas in favor of the 75 mph speeds on I-80 in Nebraska and the Oklahoma turnpikes. Now there is no such disparity with Kansas’ closest neighbors, and no way to sell the change as economic development.

Some of the 75 mph stretches seem ill-suited for such speed as it is, including the Kansas Turnpike through south Wichita and Topeka and I-135 through Newton. Higher speeds won’t make them any safer.

High-tech driving distractions are only more of a concern now. Bill proponent Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, even did a phone interview while driving on I-70 toward Kansas City, noting he was “driving 85 and I’m just flowing along naturally with traffic.” Good grief.

The Kansas Department of Transportation and Kansas Highway Patrol oppose the 80 mph bill, and it’s not as if the trucking industry is clamoring to go faster either. Former Gov. Bill Graves, now president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, said last spring that the ATA was “disturbed by the recent trend of states raising their speed limits to 70, 75, 80 or in some areas even 85 mph. These limits are reckless and are needlessly endangering millions of motorists.”

Kansas legislators eager to cast a seemingly crowd-pleasing vote in an election year for an 80 mph speed limit need to realize such a proposal’s true costs.