The Nebraska State Legislature has given its first approval to legislation that will increase the speed limit on state highways and expressways by 5 miles per hour.
But, in what is being called a victory for the trucking industry, a plan to raise the speed limit on Interstate 80 from 75 mph to 80 mph was shelved, when lawmakers approved an amendment supported by the state’s trucking association.
The Nebraska Trucking Association, and several carriers including Omaha-based Crete Carrier Corp., originally opposed the legislation and fought to add language to the bill that will remove I-80 from the roadways that are eligible for a speed limit increase. They argued that increasing the speed limit by 5 mph would lead to an unsafe speed differential of up to 15 mph between cars and trucks. Many trucks are equipped with governing devices that restrict the top speed to between 65 and 68 mph.
“We were concerned about really increasing the speed differential between cars and trucks to where it could really impact safety. We know that four-wheel drivers are much more aggressive when the speed differential gets larger,” Nebraska Trucking Association President Kent Grisham said. “In addition to safety, there is a cost with a bigger speed differential. It increases the frequency and the severity of accidents, and that can have a huge economic impact. In addition to safety concerns there is a dollar figure here too.”
“When that industry stands up and says increasing the speed limit is not a good idea, I think we should listen,” said Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, who offered the amendment.
I-80 runs 455 miles directly through the state from the Iowa/Nebraska border to the Nebraska/Wyoming border. It is the only interstate in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Department of Transportation would be granted the authority to raise the speed limit 5 miles per hour after conducting an engineering and traffic investigation on the road being considered for the increase. Speed limits on state four-lane highways could go to 70 mph and to 65 mph on state two-lane highways that now allow 60 mph.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, since 2015, Arkansas, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have raised the maximum rural interstate speed limit. IIHS said legislatures increasing their states’ speed limits is a trend they do not support, especially as vehicle-related deaths for cars and trucks are increasing.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 37,461 lives were lost on U.S. roads in 2016, marking an increase of 5.6% over the same period in 2015. In 2016, the trucking industry saw a 5.4% jump in fatalities, the highest since 2007. Of 4,317 fatalities, 722 were occupants of large trucks. The rest were in private vehicles and pedestrians.
“Raising the speed limit does not come without a cost. It will lead to more crashes. And those crashes will be more severe with more injuries and deaths,” IIHS spokesman Russ Rader said.
The bill, with the I-80 amendment, needs two more votes by the Senate before the April 18 end of the legislative session to be sent to Gov. Pete Ricketts. Earlier in 2018 the governor said he supported a speed limit increase.