Would You Drive 85? New Bill Raises Highway Speed Limit
Earlier this week, State Senator Don Gustavson introduced Senate Bill 191. It would allow the Nevada Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit wherever it determines that speed can be done safely.
The idea of getting there faster is appealing to anyone who has driven the long, seemingly never-ending stretches of lonely Nevada highway. Sitting in a Reno Starbucks, Greg Ramsay recounted several cross-state drives that often didn't seem to end. As he put it, "Brutal comes to mind. Butt-numbing. I listen to a lot of books on tape. So…it's educational." He says if the speed limit sign said 85 miles per hour...he'd do it. "Yeah, probably…or just under."
Right now, the top speed on rural highways in Nevada is 70mph. On the interstates outside of town you can go to 75. There's only one state in the country that allows speeds up to 85mph, and that's Texas. The bad thing about high speeds: the higher the speed, the worse the accident. Trooper Chuck Allen of the Nevada Highway Patrol told us, "The injuries are much more serious, and that's why we always throw the seat belt message in. We've had crashes on the highway where a vehicle was not even recognizable."
Trooper Chuck also knows from over 22 years of patrol, that in reality...people traditionally go over what's on the sign. "I think there's a preconceived notion that one can travel slightly over. So there's that factor...what does 85 mean to us? Could it mean the average speed is going to be 90? I don't know."
Still, for drivers going the long haul, he sees the appeal. "You know, driving 300 miles at 75mph, that takes you 4 hours. If we bump it up to 85mph on that same stretch of freeway, you're still at 4 hours but you made 345 miles."
Back at Starbucks, customer Mary Erickson will gladly take those extra 45 miles. If legal, she'll go 85, and it wouldn't make her nervous at all. At the next table over, Melanie Peck won't mind if she does, even if she's only comfortable with 80mph herself. As she told us, "Overall I think I'd be in favor of 85mph on those super-straight stretches, but not anywhere else."
The bill's sponsor, Senator Gustavson has referenced studies in Utah that show fewer mishaps on highways when speed limits were raised.
Other experts call that into question citing improvements in vehicle safety over the years leading to fewer fatal accidents. Regardless, transportation department spokesman Scott Magruder tells us that NDOT is not taking a stand in the issue, and will stay neutral on the bill.