When Republicans took over Congress in the 1990s, one of their first moves was to repeal the national 55-mile-per-hour speed limit imposed in 1974 by the Jimmy Carter Administration. That left the setting of speed limits up to the states. Since then, Republicans across the country have been crusading to get speed limits increased - or better yet, eliminated.
Now a couple of Republican Oregon legislators, Sens. Jason Atkinson of Central Point and Bruce Starr of Hillsboro, have revived the perennial idea of raising the speed limit on rural interstates in Oregon to 75 mph from 65.
Their argument basically is the same one kids have tried since prehistoric times when their parents won't let them do something: "But all the other kids are doing it!" As Starr put it: "When you've got people doing 70 already on Oregon highways, it seems like it is time for Oregon to join with the rest of the states in the West and raise the speed limit."
But "everybody else is doing it" is a feeble argument for letting a 10-year-old do something that could get his neck broken, and it's an even weaker argument for doing something that probably would get more people killed on Oregon highways.
Oregon's 65-mph limit on rural interstates is the lowest of any Western state, and we enjoy a highway fatality rate lower than the national average. The exact cause-and-effect relationship is hard to pin down, but data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate excessive speed is a factor in about 30% of fatal crashes. Crash forces on impact double with every 10-mph increase in speed above 50, making high-speed crashes much more likely to be deadly.
Also, gas mileage for most vehicles drops significantly at speeds above 50 to 60 mph. Encouraging people to drive at 75 (or 80, 90, or 100) doesn't seem like a smart thing to do with gas running at $4 a gallon.
So the costs of this bill would be substantial. But would the benefits be worth it? We don't see how.
The Atkinson-Starr proposal wouldn't save much travel time for most Oregonians. It would apply only to the rural portions of Interstates 5 and 84. And it only amounts to about a 15% speed increase, which translates to a 15% reduction in trip time. For example, being able to do 75 instead of 65 on I-84 would reduce a one-hour commute by only nine minutes.
Atkinson and Starr's move seems to be driven more by ideology - the knee-jerk conservative resistance to any government regulations, even sensible ones - than by practicality and common sense. Fortunately, Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed a similar bill in 1999 and has signaled that he's quite willing to do it again. We're looking forward to seeing this irresponsible proposal get THE BOOT.