Will higher speed limits reach North Dakota next year?

A bill to raise the speed limit on Interstates to 80 will be on the table when lawmakers go to Bismarck next week
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The trip across North Dakota might get a little shorter next year.

The borders aren't changing but a senator says he'll push to raise the speed limit to 80 mph on the two Interstates that cross the state.

"Increased speed helps us get our work done. We have a lot of miles to cover," Republican Lonnie Laffen of Grand Forks tells Prairie Public Broadcasting.

Laffen notes that two neighbors, South Dakota and Montana, made the switch to 80 last year, adding "Everyone drives that speed anyway."

Laffen heads the transportation committee in the Senate. Lawmakers will open their 2017 session in Bismarck next Tuesday and Laffen has pre-filed a bill that would raise the speed limit from 75 to 80 on Interstates 29 and 94.

Laffen says vehicles have become safer over the years, telling Forum News Service "I think we can handle it now."

I have a hard time believing that raising the speed limit would make for a safer roadway

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says it's true that fatality rates on American roads have been declining. But a national study they did last spring said deaths would have dropped more if states hadn't been raising their speed limits over the past two decades.

Since Congress got rid of a national cap on speed limits in 1995, 34 states – including Minnesota – have raised their top speed limit to 70 mph. The Insurance Institute says six states now top out at 80, while Texas has an 85 mph limit.

Their study found that a 5 mph increase in the speed limit leads to a a 4 percent increase in the fatality rate.

To test the everyone's-already-driving-that-fast argument, the institute did a separate study in Utah comparing driving speeds before and after the limit went up to 80. They found drivers tend to go a little faster than the speed limit, whatever it is.

As for North Dakota, the one Democrat on the Senate transportation committee told Forum News she's open to considering a hike in the speed limit, though she'd also like to see higher fines for exceeding it.

The Highway Patrol sounds more skeptical about the 80 mph idea. Lt. Tom Iverson told the news service the Patrol has not taken a hard look at the proposal but said "I have a hard time believing that raising the speed limit would make for a safer roadway."

The Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University said last winter 32 percent of the state's fatal crashes were speed-related and they were most likely to occur on the Interstates.

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