Monday, February 26, 2001

Ohio considers uniform speed limit

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Ohio House of Representatives is again considering imposing a uniform speed limit on cars and big trucks throughout the state, in effect allowing tractor-trailers to go 10 mph faster on several stretches of highway in Greater Cincinnati.

        Advocates of the Speed Uniformity Bill, introduced last week, say their goal is not to allow trucks to go faster, but to make highways safer by ensuring that everyone is going the same speed.

        But opponents, which include commuters, highway safety advocates and law enforcement officials, say trucks already routinely break the 55 mph speed limit and that adding 10 mph will make things even worse.

        “There's been times I've gone 70 mph on I-275 or I-74 and trucks just zoom right past me and push me off the road in my little Escort,” Julie Niesen of Delhi Township said. She said she uses the area's interstates to travel to eastern Greater Cincinnati four to five times a week. “If they could go 10 mph faster, they'll push it to 20. And that would chase me off I-275 for good.”

        Testimony to the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee will occur Tuesday in Columbus, and bill opponents are sure to introduce these statistics:

        • A partly loaded tractor trailer (a full load is considered 80,000 pounds) travel ing 55 mph on average takes 200 feet to stop, compared with an average of 121 feet for cars or light trucks. Add 10 mph, and that distance increases to an average of 250 feet for big rigs and 143 feet for cars, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

        • In 1999, there were 3,373 truck crashes on Ohio interstates and turnpikes. Of those, 13.4 percent were caused by an improper lane change by the truck driver, 6 percent were caused by unsafe speed by the truck driver, and 9.8 percent were blamed on the truck driver's following too closely. Opponents say the numbers will go up if trucks are allowed to drive faster.

        Those figures are from the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which could not say which accidents took place where speed limits differ.

        Bill sponsor Rep. Bryan Williams, R-Akron, said there is a greater hazard from differing speed limits than from higher speed rates.

        “I've got the truck drivers, the guys who do this for a living, telling me it would be safer overall,” Mr. Williams said.

        In Ohio, passenger cars and light trucks can travel 65 mph on rural interstates, but trucks are limited to 55 mph. It's 55 or lower in urban areas for cars and trucks.

        In Greater Cincinnati, sections of I-275 and I-74 are 65 mph for cars and 55 mph for trucks, as are stretches of I-71 and I-75 in Butler and Warren counties.

        The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments reports that more than 15,000 trucks use I-75 inside I-275 daily, which OKI says is double the average level seen on comparable freeways elsewhere.

        “This is the most trucks I've seen in one area in my career,” said Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Michael Black, commander of the Hamilton post. “And you know how it will work if we allow trucks to go 65 — there will be the ones who push it to 70, 75 or even higher, even if the majority of truck drivers are safe and conscientious.

        “That makes a truck harder to control, and guess who loses if there's a crash with a car.”

        Ohio — which has the fifth-largest interstate system in the country — is one of 10 states with split speed limits, raising its limit for cars in 1998.

        Indiana allows cars to travel 65 mph and trucks 60 mph, and Kentucky has uniform speed limits — 65 mph for cars and trucks.

        The Ohio branch of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association has lobbied hard for the proposed legislation — which has been introduced in each of the last seven sessions — arguing that it would make the highways safer.

        “Granted, we'll never get a perfect country where everyone goes the same speed limit, but when they go the same speed, there is less interaction between cars and trucks,” said Joan Kasicki, Ohio representative for the drivers association. “And it creates less congestion, making for less accidents.”

        Trucking officials and Mr. Williams cite last year's study by the Arizona Department of Transportation that found that a uniform speed limit reduced the number of potential conflicts and that split limits raised that potential.

        Also cited is a 1995 Ohio State Highway Patrol study that Mr. Williams interprets as saying differing speeds were more of a hazard than the overall speed rate.

        But Lt. Gary Lewis, a patrol spokesman, said that the report is being taken out of context and that it was initially conducted to look at the advantages of a speed limit of 55 mph for cars and trucks.

        “The issue for us is making sure trucks can stop efficiently in an emergency,” Lt. Lewis said. “And we'll fight it like we always have.”

        Mr. Williams says he is willing to take on what he calls “law enforcement's scare tactics” and is confident he can get the bill through committee and to a vote in the House.

        “This is common sense, and it makes things safer for truckers and drivers alike,” he said. “And I'm not going to give up until we get it through.”


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