80 mph Speed Limit Becomes Official Along I-80 - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

80 mph Speed Limit Becomes Official Along I-80

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If you have driven between Fernley and Winnemucca since Monday morning, you've probably noticed a big change.  The Nevada Department of Transportation started replacing the 75 mph speed limit signs with new ones that allow speeds of 80 mph.  The 130-mile stretch is the only road in Nevada where people can legally drive 80 miles per hour.  The speed limit will stay the same through a short stretch through Lovelock.  The new speed limit has been in the works since the state legislature approved the increase during the 2015 session.

"Since that law passed, last session, we've been carefully evaluating all segments of Interstate 80 from the Utah state line to Fernley," Meg Ragonese, NDOT Public Information Officer said.

NDOT studied things like the shape of the road, current speeds and crash records, deciding this was the only section of I-80 that was safe enough for the higher speeds.

"That really helped us evaluate these sections that were most viable and more importantly, safest for this speed limit increase," Ragonese said.

Safety was the biggest issue.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted a study from 1993 to 2013 in 41 states, estimating an increase in 33,000 fatalities as a result of speed limit increases.  The study looked at deaths per billion miles traveled by state and roadway type, showing that for every 5 mph increase in the maximum speed limit, fatal crashes increased by four percent.

"Since 2013, speeds have only become more extreme, and the trend shows no sign of abating," Charles Farmer, IIHS Vice President for Research and Statistical Services said. "We hope state lawmakers will keep in mind the deadly consequences of higher speeds when they consider raising limits."

Still, NDOT believes it has done its homework, which includes data from states like Utah and Texas that already have speed limits of 80 mph or more.

"There's actually been some safety data out of those states, showing that it really doesn't change the safety of those roadways, but it does of course, change the mobility of them, which is an important factor," Ragonese said.

Proponents say the higher speed limit will increase safety because it could reduce time on the highway that could otherwise result in drowsy driving.  It also brings the speed limit in line with the speeds that drivers are already traveling.

"Most people go that anyway, and I think it's safe enough because there's not that much traffic out there," Judy Cable, Fernley resident said.

"In a lot of these areas, motorists were already traveling between 78 and 80 miles per hour, and we actually don't project that that will change that much with this speed limit change," Ragonese said.

Jamie Westcott and his family are moving from San Francisco to Denver, driving along Interstate 80 to get to their new home.  He does not mind the higher speed limit, since so many people already drive at speeds at or above 80 mph.

"Assuming it's safe, I'm fine with it. Get there a little faster," Westcott said.

The increased speed limit is along a stretch of highway that is fairly flat and open.  The interstate courses over several mountain passes to the east of Winnemucca, and that is one reason why the speed limit will remain the same through eastern Nevada.

"Heavier semi trucks, they slow down as they're going over these grades, of course, and that really can create an extreme speed differential between the speed of passenger vehicles as they go up the grades and the semi trucks," Ragonese said.

NDOT will continue to collect data to see if there are any significant changes with an 80 mph speed limit.  It is unlikely any other areas of the interstate will also see an increased speed limit but NDOT is studying southern Nevada to see if it is feasible to increase speeds on Interstate 15.  Drivers are still required to adjust their speeds during bad weather, including rain and snow events.  While the speed limit has changed to 80 mph in one northern Nevada stretch, drivers still have to travel at the posted speeds until the signs are changed.

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