Local News

Speed limit bill raises safety concerns

Driving 75 mph on some stretches of the interstate and cruising 70 mph on rural parts of four-lane divided highways like U.S. 27 may become legal if Gov. Rick Scott signs a speed limit bill that has been approved by the Legislature.

After the Senate OK last week, the House gave final approval Wednesday to S.B. 392, which would allow maximum speed limits of 75 mph on limited-access highways, up from the current 70 mph. It also would allow speed limits of 70 mph on four-lane, divided highways outside urban areas, up from the current 65 mph.

The Florida Department of Transportation would make the decision whether to raise speed limits.

A possible local impact could be a rural stretch of U.S. 27 from southern Highlands County through Glades, Hendry and Broward counties, which is now 65mph.

Miguel Romero, of Avon Park, who occasionally drives to Miami, believes a 70 mph speed limit on a divided highway like U.S. 27 would be dangerous.

If somebody is turning off the road at night or during rain or fog and is hit by a car doing 70 mph, “I think that is really going to be dangerous,” he said.

Romero supported increasing the speed limit to 75 mph on limited access highways.

Raven Ewan, of Sebring, has mixed feelings.

Raising speed limits could be a good idea because it could help motorists get faster to their destinations, but less safe because at faster speeds it is easier to lose control of your car, she said. At a faster speed, a wreck will be a lot worse, she said, and a vehicle uses up more gas the faster it goes.

“So I think things need to stay the way they are,” she said.

Charlie Crisman, of Sebring, doesn’t believe the speed limit should increase.

“There’s enough accidents,” he said. “You don’t need to go any faster.”

Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell said it would not make a “huge difference” if the higher limit is restricted to limited access roads like interstates.

“Many times I drive to Tallahassee or Gainesville and it feels like going the speed limit at 70 mph is probably about 10 mph less than what everybody else is doing anyway,” he said. “So I don’t think it would be a big deal.

“Clearly, at highway speed, either at 70 or 75, any kind of accident is likely to be severe, but I am not certain that the 5 mph difference would make a huge difference,” he said.

It probably “wouldn’t be bad” to raise the speed limit on U.S. 27 in southern Highlands through Clewiston and down to Miami, Elwell said.

Highlands County Sheriff’s Major David Paeplow said he wasn’t familiar with the speed limit bill.

“Our job,of course, is to enforce whatever limits that are put on the highway. Obviously, there are concerns as people go faster; exponentially, there is the potential for greater injuries,” he said.

A safe speed limit depends on the traffic volume and the types of roads, which is why interstates have higher speed limits because they are generally designed to handle higher speeds, he said.

Florida’s maximum speed limit has been 70 mph since 1996. Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Lehigh Acres Republican who is the House sponsor of this year’s proposal, said some roads are designed to handle vehicles at higher speeds than 70 mph.

But Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, told House members he has been a funeral director for 43 years and was an ambulance attendant early in his career. He said he couldn’t vote for a measure that he is afraid could cost a life.

“I’m Dennis Baxley, I’m a speeder and I can’t vote for this bill,” he said.


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The News Service of Florida Contributed to this report.