The Senate geared up Feb. 11 to raise Idaho’s speed limits, as proponents aim to help drivers shave five minutes off their trips for every 100 miles traveled.
Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls and the bill’s main sponsor, said the plan would give the Idaho Transportation Department the choice to increase legal speeds from 75 to 80 mph on the interstate and from 65 to 70 mph on state highways.
But even if the bill passes, drivers won’t be able to put the pedal down right away.
The department would be tasked with conducting studies to evaluate the risks of a higher speed limit on a road, and the Idaho Transportation Board would have to sign off on the department’s recommendation before changes are made.
“Safety is and should always be paramount,” Davis said. “If (the board) believes a certain stretch of road should not have an increased speed limit, then I have confidence they will exercise that judgment.”
Committee members joked Feb. 11 that the lawmaker was seeking to shorten his own commute to the Capitol in Boise, but he denied being a speed demon.
“I’m one of the people driving home that most cars pass,” Davis said.
A quick check of his court record confirms Davis’ self-proclaimed Sunday-driver tendencies: He hasn’t had a ticket in decades, at least according to Idaho police.
His bill, Davis said, would “take politics out of speed limits” by putting the Idaho Transportation Department in the driver’s seat – and leaving the final decision on where speeds would rise to the experts on road design and safety.
“That’s what this bill does: it says to the department and to the board ‘You use your best judgment,’” he said.
But Michael Kane of AAA said that when it comes to speed limits, the state needs to consider factors like weather, night driving and wear and tear on roads.
“We are going into parts unknown in an area that has not been greatly studied up until now,” Kane said. Only a few states have limits higher than 75, he said.
Speed limits for large trucks would be capped at 70 mph on interstate highways.
“Cost-conscious shippers and long-haul trucks use speed limiters to maximize productivity and efficiency for their fleets,” AAA stated in a press release. “The limiters keep trucks operating at between 62 to 64 mph. However, some non-fleet and owner-operated trucks drive well above the legal 65-mph limit on the interstates.”
Utah, Idaho’s neighbor to the south, upped speed limits on some roads to 80 mph last year.
Kane proposed an amendment to the bill that would delay any speed-limit changes for at least a year to ensure the Idaho Transportation Department can answer questions that might be overlooked.
“When we get to be 80 miles per hour, when do we begin to overdrive our headlights?” he asked. “Is there going to be any consideration for impaired drivers or weather conditions? We assume this, but we don’t know.”
Davis said the bill is likely to attract amendments.
Even if lawmakers follow through with the plan, Idaho’s speed limit still wouldn’t be tops in the country. For instance, one stretch of asphalt in Texas – a 41-mile-long stretch of toll road outside of Austin – allows drivers to punch it to 85 mph.