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Guest editorial: Go slow on increasing speed limit

4:30 PM, Aug. 22, 2013  |  Comments
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A proposal by Manitowoc Rep. Paul Tittl to raise the speed limit in Wisconsin to 70 mph should not be put on the fast track through the Wisconsin Legislature.

Regardless of its merits, a proposal that potentially affects thousands of people every day deserves proper deliberation. There are many factors for lawmakers to consider before they can make an informed decision.

The change would make Wisconsin's speed limit uniform with surrounding states, according to Tittl. He also said raising the speed limit would be good for businesses and workers with long commutes because it will allow people to get to their destinations faster.

Those are good points, but are easily countered. For example, those concerned about arriving earlier at a destination could simply leave earlier. And we don't need to "keep up" with states like Illinois, which recently went to a 70 mph limit.

The key factor is - and always should be - safety.

According to the Associated Press, Illinois was the 35th state to increase speed limits since Congress allowed it in 1995, doing away with federal speed limits of 55 mph on most roads and 65 mph on rural roads.

The trend has resulted in an increase in road deaths and injuries in those states, according to some studies, including one that found a 9 percent jump in deaths on rural interstates.

Other crash analysts say letting speed limits creep up poses no increased risk and point out, as Tittl argued, that many drivers already are going faster anyway.

Which raises another point. We agree with Tittl that current speed limits are ignored. A new one will be as well. If 65 begets 70 or 75, 70 will beget 75 or 80. Speedometer needles will creep up and police will be placed in the position of trying to determine how fast is really too fast.

And not all 65 mph roads are created equal. On Highway 23 in Sheboygan County, for example, there are stretches that allow for cross traffic, which can be dangerous enough for drivers attempting to estimate current speeds and distances. Raising the speed limit on stretches like those (there also are several like it on Highway 41 north of Green Bay) is a different matter than, say, on four-lane interstates in largely rural areas.

We are not opposed to raising speed limits to 70 mph. It should be done wisely, however, and in the right environments. We would be interested in hearing from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which has not yet taken a stand on Tittl's proposal.

The measure appears to have support in the state Assembly, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said there are "no plans to tackle the speed limit proposal any time soon."

Fitzgerald's not-so-fast stance is wise at this point. We hope, however, that the matter is not shelved entirely and is given the serious legislative consideration it deserves.

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