ANNAPOLIS – Opponents of a bill to raise the speed limit said Tuesday that higher speeds would result in more accidents, pollution and higher insurance rates.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D- Montgomery, would increase the speed limit on rural interstate highways to 65 miles per hour.
Forehand said many people already drive over the speed limit in these areas.
“Unreasonable speed limits are breeding disrespect for the law,” she told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, of which she is a member.
But opponents don’t want to change the law just because people are already breaking it.
“The accidents will occur, they will be more severe, there will be more fatalities, there will be more disabling injuries and there will be property damage losses,” said Gerald Donaldson of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of consumer safety and insurance organizations.
Noting that the number of elderly drivers in the state is increasing, Donaldson added, “They are going to be the people intimidated by higher speed limits.”
Leo W. Doyle of the National Association of Independent Insurers said he sees no logic for this bill. There will be more accidents and insurance rates will increase, he said.
Insurers are also concerned that the increase would affect exit ramps and connecting roads, making accidents more likely, said Jeffrey Rauh of Nationwide Insurance Enterprises.
However, Maj. Morris Krome, a retired state police official, argued the opponents’ scenario was unlikely. Many rural interstate highways were designed for high-speed traffic, Krome said.
Krome added that police are not able to adequately enforce the current 55 mph limit, and seldom write tickets unless a person is driving over 70 mph.
Forehand agreed. “If the speed is increased, police can focus their resources on those who are very dangerous,” she said.
Calling efforts to thwart the bill “scare tactics,” she said there was no evidence of increased insurance rates in the 42 states that have already raised the speed limit.
Forehand’s bill has the support of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff.
Kassoff told the committee that in addition to raising the speed limit, he would recommend banning radar detectors, increasing points and fines and expanding law enforcement in affected areas.
“There may have been a hope years ago that we could keep speeds down,” he said. “In our state we have seen the reality of speeds increasing.”
Maryland has 270 miles of road that would qualify for the speed limit increase, Kassoff said — including parts of Interstates 68, 70, northern sections of 270 and 95 north of Baltimore.
Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, said some citizens in his district were concerned that speeds could be increased on Route 50. However, he said Forehand’s bill would not allow for that.
Maryland’s maximum speed limit hasn’t always been 55 mph. In the 1960s, it was 60 mph. In 1969, the General Assembly approved a bill setting the maximum at 70 mph. And during the 1974 energy crisis, the limit was again changed to 55 mph. -30-