Nearly 60 percent of the Arkansas interstate system can have a posted speed limit of 75 mph, according to a draft of an Arkansas Department of Transportation review of speed limits, mandated by a 2017 state law.
The increase from 70 mph on interstates in rural areas is feasible from "an engineering and safety standpoint," said Scott Bennett, the director of the Transportation Department.
The draft will be available for a 45-day comment period, after which the department will address the comments before presenting the state Highway Commission with a final draft report, he said. The five-member commission will then have to vote in favor of increasing the speed limit for it to go into effect.
Based on "an engineering and traffic investigation" the agency undertook to comply with Act 1097, a 65 mph speed limit is also feasible on urban interstates, the review said.
The posted speed limit now is 60 mph on urban interstates and 65 mph on suburban interstates, but the study recommends eliminating the latter category "to provide a uniform speed through urban areas."
The review also found a 65 mph speed limit to be feasible on rural multilane highways. Previous studies have resulted in posted speed limits of 65 mph on multilane highways with grass medians and 60 mph for multilane highways with paved medians. Highways with at least two lanes of traffic in each direction are considered multilane.
"This study found that it is feasible to set the speed limit on rural multi-lane highways at 65 mph regardless of median type to better meet driver expectations, unless an engineering study determines the need for a lower speed limit," the review said.
If the commission approves the new speed limits, Arkansas would become the 13th state to adopt the 75 mph speed limit for rural interstates, including neighbors Oklahoma and Louisiana. Texas has a posted speed limit of 85 mph on rural interstates, but the section of Interstate 30 coming into Arkansas has a 75 mph limit.
Arkansas is one of 22 states with a posted 70 mph speed limit, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The other states include Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
Rural interstates account for 438.89 miles, or 59 percent, of the state's interstate system, which totals 749.16 miles, according to Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Transportation Department.
Rural interstates "typically have at least two lanes of traffic in each direction," the review said.
The average speed on a section of rural interstate in 2016 was 52 mph with 85 percent of the motorists traveling no more than 71 mph, according to the review, which Bennett said was at odds with the widely held assumption that motorists already were driving at 75 mph.
The commission last tinkered with the speed limit in 2015 when it set a speed limit of 70 mph for all motorists on rural freeways and eliminated the 65 mph maximum speed limit for heavy trucks, which had been in place since 1996.
Fatal crashes increase when the speed limit is raised, according to the review. The speed limit was increased in 1996, and the affected highways went from 40 fatal crashes and 46 fatalities in 1995 to 44 fatal crashes and 54 fatalities in 1997.
But fatality and serious injury crash rates peaked in 2000, "even given the steady increase in the vehicle miles traveled over this period," the review said.
"It could be argued that technology has played a more significant role in the fluctuation of the rates than the posted speed limit," the review said.
"For example continued improvements in vehicle safety design, airbags, better tires and the more recent development of collision avoidance systems has contributed to the declines whereas the explosion of the use of smart phones and texting has contributed to the increases."
The commission approved the order to send the draft out for public comment, which Bennett said will last 45 days, but took no vote to raise the speed limit.
Commission member Philip Taldo of Springdale expressed reluctance to vote in favor of a 75 mph limit.
"I am concerned about raising the speed limits for several reasons," he said. "First and foremost, we're in a period in our culture where everybody's got one of these phones in their hands whether they are sitting at a meeting or driving down the highway. And the younger people are even more attached than we are.
"Our state is below the national average in using seat belts, and we also in the past year put beer and wine in every grocery store and quick-stop in the state," Taldo said. "We've authorized medical marijuana for medical treatment ... and then we look at raising the speed limit. It just doesn't look right to me."
Metro on 10/19/2017
Print Headline: Speed limits' rise viable, study finds; 75 floated for state’s rural interstates