Lewis Diuguid

Lewis Diuguid: Unwise push on to raise highway speed limit to 80 mph in Kansas

A FedEx truck heading west passes a 75 mile per hour speed limit sign along the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Tonganoxie, Kan. The Legislature is considering a bill to raise the speed limit in Kansas on some highways to 80 mph.
A FedEx truck heading west passes a 75 mile per hour speed limit sign along the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Tonganoxie, Kan. The Legislature is considering a bill to raise the speed limit in Kansas on some highways to 80 mph. The Kansas City Star

An upward speed limit creep in Kansas was bound to happen.

The Legislature is considering raising the 75 mph speed limit on some major highways to 80 mph. For a lot of reasons that’s a bad idea. No roads have been designated for the change, although rural sections of Interstates 70 and 35 are likely choices.

House Bill 2450 has a lot of momentum behind getting the change to happen this year. Under the proposal, even if the Kansas Highway Patrol or officers with other law enforcement agencies were to pull drivers over for doing 90 mph those motorists would not be cited for a moving traffic violation.

That is absurd, wasteful and dangerous. Six states already have the ridiculously high speed limit of 80 mph on rural areas. They are Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Idaho. Texas is worse with a speed limit of 85 mph in some areas.

That’s a far cry from President Richard Nixon in response to the Arab oil embargo, signing the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act in January 1974 lowering highway speed limits from 70 mph to 55 mph to force the nation to save fuel. In 1995 the U.S. government took the brakes off that law, allowing states to set their own speed limits.

Many went back to 70 mph. Kansas in 2011 pumped it up to 75 mph.

Highway safety experts know that higher speed limits leave little room for error, and that’s especially bad with so many drivers today using cellphones to talk, text, get directions and do other distracting things while behind the wheel. Drivers of semis pulling more than one trailer do it. Imagine them going 80 mph on Kansas highways.

The Kansas Highway Patrol opposes the legislation as does an organization of Kansas truckers. The speed limit change just makes highways more dangerous and increases the likelihood that any traffic crash being fatal instead of something that motorists could walk away from.

The higher speed limit puts more wear and tear on vehicles, and that’s not good. Edmunds.com, an American online resource for automotive information, notes: “Since 2002, the average car loan term has slowly crept past five years, and is now inching past six-and-a-half years. In 2014, 62 percent of the auto loans were for terms over 60 months. And nearly 20 percent of the loans were for 73- to 84-month terms.”

Try paying off such extended car notes when the speed limit is 80 mph and drivers have the luxury of going that fast and more. Car owners will stay in hock to their finance companies and the repair shop just to keep their vehicles rolling.

Higher speeds also are likely to negatively affect the value of used vehicles. They will likely be filled with mechanical problems, and let’s not forget that the Kansas Legislature has taken away funds to keep the roads in good repair, which will result in motorists going at the higher speeds absorbing more of the cost of wear-and-tear damage to their vehicles.

Driving faster also forces vehicles to operate less efficiently, causing gas mileage to plunge.

A vehicle’s gas mileage at 60 mph will be 3 percent less than at 55 mph, 17 percent less at 70 mph, 23 percent less at 75 mph and 28 percent less at 80 mph, studies back by the Department of Energy note. Kansas — like the other states with the above 70 mph speed limit — would be going in the wrong direction.

The Obama administration has set a target of increasing the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, also known as CAFE, to 35.5 mpg by 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. Raising the speed limit in Kansas would push that effort in the wrong direction.

It also wouldn’t help climate change initiatives and the agreement among countries at the United Nations summit in Paris last year to reduce fossil fuel use and the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of burning less gasoline, higher speed limits would force drivers across the Sunflower State to use more.

Not taking the cost to the environment and the weakened health of the planet’s ecosystems into consideration, going faster and burning more gasoline certainly is more affordable now with gasoline prices in the Kansas City area hovering below $1.40 for a gallon of regular. The Republican-dominated Legislature will likely act on that kind of shortsighted urge among people to go faster.

But people need to ask whether going 80 mph in Kansas and elsewhere is worth it today when the long-run cost will be dirtier air, more violent storms and a drastically damaged planet in the near future for our children and grandchildren. If legislators would only think, they would do the right thing and lower the speed limit back to at least 70 mph on Kansas highways.

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