Senate Votes Down Bill Taking Interstate Speed Limits to 80mph

Senator Lonnie Laffen speaks in favor of his legislation to increase the speed limit on North Dakota's interstate highways.

Earlier this legislative session the state House voted down a bill introduced by Rep. Ben Koppelman (R-West Fargo) which would have boosted highway and interstate speed limits by 5 miles per hour across the board.

Today the state Senate voted down the other bill increasing speed limits. Senator Lonnie Laffen (R-Grand Forks) introduced SB2057 which would have only applied to the state’s interstates. So just I29 and I94.

It would have taken the speed limits there from 75mph to 80mph, though cities would still be able to control the limits for the portion of the interstates going through their jurisdictions.

The bill was amended to also include a boost in speeding fines, which seems appropriate to me. Raising the speed limits in exchange for stiffer fines for breaking the speed limit is a reasonable compromise.

Still, after a lengthy debate, the bill failed on a 18-28 vote.

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“Too much speed is simply too much speed,” Senator Dave Oehlke (R-Devils Lake) told the chamber. That was a common theme among those lawmakers who rose to speak against the bill, but supporters offered data showing that similar increases in other states had little impact on highway safety.

Senator Jon Casper (R-Fargo) said that the average speed North Dakotans travel on the highways is about 82-83 miles per hour, something he said also undermined the justification for the ridiculous fiscal note the Department of Transportaton dropped on this bill. It’s hard to imagine why the state would have to redesign all of our exit ramps and interchanges when people are already averaging speeds over 80mph.

Casper also pointed out that a speed limit increase in South Dakota hasn’t resulted in fatalities increasing in that state, nor has it impacted the speed drivers in that state travel at.

I thought Senator David Hogue (R-Minot) did make an interesting point, though. He said that not everyone would feel comfortable driving at 80mph. He pointed out that truckers, as one example, like to stay in the 65 – 70mph range to maximize fuel efficiency. He said he’s concerned about increasing the speed limit creating a “stratification” among drivers which would make the roads “completely unsafe.”

I’m not sure how true that is, but it’s an interesting argument.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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