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Speed limit hike safe, sensible

TWO VIEWS • House Bill 2501 aims to raise Oregon's speed limit to 70 mph: Is this a long-overdue improvement or a potentially fatal mistake?

Should Oregon legalize the safe driving behavior of its citizens? My legislation, House Bill 2501, simply gives the Oregon Department of Transportation the authority to increase the speed up to 70 mph only on interstate freeways Ñ and only if the agency thinks that it's 'reasonable or safe' to do so.

ODOT must consult with engineers and safety experts before any change is made. The agency may choose to lower the speed on a section of road if it thinks that's the best course of action.

You undoubtedly will hear from opponents about the evils of speed. Whereas their creative and manipulated statistics are clever, they don't apply to my bill. This bill is limited to changes on interstates, primarily I-5 and I-84.

According to ODOT's own numbers, a large majority of the speed-related fatal accidents happen on other types of roads, not rural interstates. In fact, the agency's Web site tells us that lowering speeds may actually increase the number of accidents. Also keep in mind that if ODOT is concerned about raising the speed on a particular stretch of interstate highway, it doesn't have to do so.

What do the facts tell us about speed changes on interstates? A recent study by the Oregon Transportation Institute reviewed a dozen states that changed their speed limits from 65 mph to 70 mph in the late 1990s. The end result? The average fatal crash rate declined. In Oregon, ODOT's figures show that the average fatality rate decreased 27 percent since 1986, when the speed was increased from 55 mph to 65 mph on our interstates.

If you step back in time to the federal law that provided funding and design standards for a national expressway system in the mid-1950s, you will find that the design standards called for speeds of 70 mph. I find that ironic because Oregon's annual traffic fatality total is now down to historic lows not experienced since the 1950s.

A lot has changed in the past 50 years. Roads are safer, with new rumble strips on the shoulders and reflective paint and cable barricades in the medians. Cars are safer, with increased safety belt use, air bags, better brakes and shatterproof windshields.

Some say my legislation doesn't take into consideration other safety factors such as enforcement. I have a strong record of supporting public safety. This session, I am the chief sponsor on several bills to crack down on driving while under the influence, as well as legislation to earmark specific funding to increase the number of Oregon State Police troopers.

Since Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit in 1995, 44 states have raised the speed on rural interstates. Oregon remains one of two states west of the Mississippi that hasn't budged.

Federal highway experts and others agree that the safest speed is the one chosen by 85 percent of the drivers Ñ known as the 85th percentile.

HB 2501 allows ODOT to legalize the speed at which 85 percent of the motorists are already driving on Oregon's interstates today. My legislation would make the current safe driving behavior of our citizens legal. I would ask you to think about this proposed change based on your own driving behavior.

Rep. Randy Miller, R-West Linn, is vice president of Moore Mill and Lumber Co. of Bandon.Ê