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Should Oregon Speed Limit be Raised to 75 mph?

Two bills pending in the Oregon House of Representatives would increase the speed limits for passenger vehicles.

  • Current speed limit on state highways: 55 mph
  • Current speed limit on interstate highways: 65 mph

Oregon House Bill 3094 proposes to change the speed limit for passenger vehicles on interstates—I-5, I-84, I-82—from 65 miles per hour to 75 mph. State highway speed limits would go up to 65 mph.

A similar measure, Oregon House Bill 3402, would increase the speed limit to from 55 to 70 mph: but, only for sections of eastern Oregon highways, like Highway 97 and Highway 20.

“Yes, Oregon needs to increase the speed limit!”

Current speed limits are unrealistic, the bills’ proponents argue, as people already drive 70 mph on highways. Limits of 55 and 65 mph are unnecessary: the number of car crashes resulting in serious injuries and fatalities has been on a downward trend for years.

State Representative Knute Buehler is sponsoring HB 3402. In a statement to a Bend, Oregon news station, he cited the improvements in Oregon rural highways, as well as improved car safety technology, as factors rendering the current speed limits “unnecessarily low in selected rural areas of the state.”

Proponents point out that Oregon is one of only 12 states—and the only Western state—with a maximum speed limit of 65 mph or slower. A few years ago, Utah’s legislature raised speed limits to 80 mph in some rural areas. State officials say the accident rate has actually dropped. They attributed the improved safety to more vehicles traveling at the same speed.

This will help Oregonians explore the beautiful rural parts of Oregon more efficiently and allow businesses to ship their goods quicker to the distant corners of our state.”

– Rep. Knute Buehler

Commuters and businesses that ship goods across the state may have a particular interest in the speed limit increase. A review by the Oregon Transportation Commission in 2004 looked at one 300-mile stretch of I-84 between The Dalles and Ontario. They found that estimated value of time saved for drivers in that area would be approximately $17 million per year.

“No, increasing the speed limit is dangerous!”

Speeding is a factor in almost a third of fatal motor vehicle crashes.

There’s a direct correlation between speed and the likelihood of fatality. The faster you are driving, the more likely you are to die in the event of a car crash.

The bills’ opponents say that part of the reason for that downward trend in car accident injuries and fatalities is speed limits and police enforcement. And any economic benefit for the drivers saving a couple of minutes a day would be negated by the high cost of traffic deaths.

Studies have indicated that when we increase speed, you increase the potential of risk and it does show itself in increased lives lost and serious injuries sustained.”

-Oregon Department of Transportation safety division administrator Troy Costales

Another concern cited by opponents: the speed spillover effect. Will drivers exiting off of I-5 easily transition from 80 mph down to 30 mph? Are exit ramps and stoplights set up to handle vehicle traffic at high speeds?

Citizens in rural areas of Oregon are more likely to support the speed limit increase. There are fewer cars and less congestion; however, farmers move equipment at slow speeds, and livestock line the roads. Additionally, it takes emergency responders longer to get to the scenes of serious car accidents in rural areas.

A Beaverton police officer expresses concern about vehicle speed and accidents
A Beaverton police officer expresses concern about vehicle speed and accidents

What do you think?

Is it time for Oregon to catch up with the rest of the West? Or is a speed limit increase unnecessarily dangerous?

Both speed limit bills are currently in committee in the Oregon House. Track the bills’ progress, and let your state representative know what you think about the proposed speed limit increases here: http://gov.oregonlive.com

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