70 mph speed limit proposed: When is 'fast' fast enough?
In Pennsylvania, motorists are not allowed to drive faster than 65 mph.
That doesn't mean they don't do it anyway. In fact, on our busy interstates, an obedient driver who moves along at 65 mph sees practically everyone else pass him by as though he were standing still. Those who are more comfortable traveling below the maximum limit are risking getting run off the road.
Of course, the 65 mph speed limit is legal only when it is specifically posted. It's not legal to go 65 in a 55 mph zone, but again, some drivers feel they have an absolute right to go that fast anywhere, any place at any time. Some drive at speeds of 80 mph on the interstates and speeds of 60 to 65 mph on two-lane highways. They believe it is "understood" that drivers have automatic leeway to go 10 to 15 mph above the posted limit.
What will happen, we wonder, if a proposal by state Senate President Pro Temporare Joe Scarnati to increase the speed limit to 70 mph becomes law? Granted, the higher limit would not be automatic everywhere; highway officials would have to determine where the limit is safe. But it's a safe bet that where the 70 mph limit is allowed, drivers will decide they can and should go 85 or 90 mph.
Higher limits may make sense in rural areas where there are no drastic changes in terrain and no congested areas. However, on the major routes that area residents use most often, such as Interstates 80 and 81, higher speed limits could be a prescription for disaster.
The old warnings that "speed kills" and motorists should "drive defensively" still have relevance in an era when people are in a hurry and become frustrated if they believe someone is in their way. Increasing the speed limit by 5 mph may permit a driver to get to his destination 10 minutes earlier, but at what cost? The higher the speed, the more severe the crash.
There is no harm in Pennsylvania legislators and policy-makers having a serious discussion on Scarnati's 70 mph proposal, but "other states are doing it" should not be the primary motivation. Let's hope safety concerns also receive a proper hearing.