I am an overly cautious driver, according to some of the backseat drivers in my vehicle. Some of them are related to me.
So it was a surprise to them and even to me when, after a Labor Day road trip to Salt Lake City to visit a daughter, I declared, "Montana should increase the speed limit to 80 miles per hour."
In July, Idaho changed the speed limits on some stretches of interstate highways to 80 miles an hour in areas defined as rural. Idaho lawmakers voted to increase the state speed limit during their 2014 session but authorized the Idaho Transportation Department to determine where it was appropriate to raise the speed limit to 80 miles per hour. That was done after safety studies and engineering reviews.
The speed limit on some stretches of interstate in Utah were increased to 80 miles per hour in July 2013.
Wyoming also has 80 mph limits on some rural interstate routes, along with Texas. The Lone Star State also allows speed limits of up to 85 miles per hour with caveats. There is just one segment of highway, 40 miles of State Highway 130 between Austin and San Antonio, with an 85 mph speed limit, and it's a toll road built by a private developer. A one-way toll for a passenger vehicle for the 40-mile length is $6.49.
Toll roads in Montana, where traffic "jams" are generally isolated to the Missoula and Bozeman areas on college home football game Saturdays, probably aren't on the agenda.
But with the majority of Interstates 15, 90 and 94 in this state in rural areas, an 80 mph speed limit along some routes would make those long trips a little less long. What could be the down side? I asked Montana Highway Patrol Col. Tom Butler to weigh in.
"As a general rule, the faster you go, the more opportunity there is for injury and property damage because it takes you longer to stop," he said. "The difference in near misses is of feet and fractions of seconds. Whether it is an accident caused by a distracted driver, a mechanical issues such as a blown tire or a deer or antelope on the highway, the faster you go, the less time you have to react."
A change in Montana's Interstate speed limits would need to be passed by the Montana Legislature and so far, no bills to do that have been proposed.
I lived beside a state highway in rural Glacier County in 1995 when Montana's daytime speed limit was switched to "reasonable and prudent" and watched daily examples of idiots who are neither. I was relieved when the "Montanabahn" closed in 1999 and the state's maximum speed limit was set at 75 mph.
If Montana's upper speed limit is raised, we all need to defer to data and safety experts about just where those higher speeds are appropriate.
Whether that is even addressed by the 2015 Legislature, I can't pass up an opportunity to pass along Col. Butler's most important advice.
"We always advocate slowing down for conditions and buckling up," he said.
— Jo Dee Black is the Tribune's business editor and a member of the editorial board.
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