Could an 80mph speed limit really be a reality?

How does 80 mph sound?
How does 80 mph sound?

- If lawmakers can't fix the roads, would you settle for them boosting some of the freeway speeds to 80 miles and hour? Suffice it to say lots of motorists with lead feet would rejoice at being "legal" at 80 mph.   

Well don't get your hopes up, boys and girls, as a host of folks are not rejoicing at the idea.

"We think we're going to see more deaths on the highways. The data suggests that," observes one of the lobbyists for the state insurance industry. Pete Kuhnmuench has other complains about the pending legislation but is troubled by the fact that more deaths, accidents or mayhem on the roads, will result in higher insurance payouts and that could lead to higher insurance rates for everybody.

Not so fast, counters the bills's main sponsor, Rep. Brad Jacobsen (R-Oxford), who has been on this speed limit issue for more than two years with still nothing to show for it.

Yet, in a glimmer of hope - the House Transportation Committee took testimony on the package of bills last Tuesday.

Everyone appears to be all over the lot.

Rep. Ken Yonkers (R-West Michigan) is very concerned about motorists moving at 80 and truckers at 65. "If we kick the speed up and the trucks stay the same, we're going to have more bottlenecks which I believe creates a higher risk." The bill allows truckers to go to 70 mph but the lobbyist for them reports a divided membership on that move.

Back to the insurance guy. Mr. Kuhnmuench is not fond of another provision in the bill that would revamp the point system. Now if you get a ticket, regardless of the speed, points are applied to your driving record and when it comes time for the insurance companies to set your rates, everybody knows points translates into higher rates.

This proposal would eliminate the points for all tickets that are zero to five miles over the limit. While a boon to the speeders, the insurance folks figure, that wipes out a behavior modification stick to keep motorists from speeding. "The point system makes you accountable for our habits with respect to insurance."

But also in the debate is ABATE. The gentleman who represents the motorcycle lobby is all in on hiking the speeds to 80 because, as Vince Consiglio views it, "it's actually safer if you can go 80 and get ahead of the traffic. The further you are away from cars, the safer I feel ... as opposed to being right next to cars." And on that front the motorist and the cyclists may agree as neither are fond of the other to begin with.

But here's where things get dicey for Mr. Jacobsen. He can take the back and forth from this group or that over the sanity of hiking the limits. What he can't handle is a new push back from the Michigan State Police.

There's been a significant change in the MSP players working on this. Two years ago one of the inside bean counters who worked on highway safety data was supplying positive data but now he's retired.

The MSP legislative lobbyist, who was working with Mr. Jacobsen, was quietly transferred to another post  and now the sponsor describes a "change in attitude with the Michigan State Police." The attitude has so changed, in fact, he says the cops want MDOT to work on this. The transportation department has not done any of the leg work on this.

None of this, by any stretch of the imignation is good news for Mr. Jacobsen who was asked if MSP is fighting him, is the higher limit dead?

"Could be," he responds despite what he describes as a "ground swell of support for it."

Yeah but. He is aware of the history here, "Very rarely does the legislature go against the whims and wishes of the state police."

Translated: Adios, 80 mph.


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