Speed limit increase is having positive impact
By Erik Posz / Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, August 30, 2006 10:40 AM CDT
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September 1 marks the first anniversary of the speed limit being raised on five rural Min-nesota Highways.

Highway 53 from Inter-national Falls to Virginia, High-way 71 from the Canadian border to the Iowa border, Highway 23 from Interstate 90 to Willmar, Highway 2 from Bemidji to the North Shore and Highway 212 from the South Dakota border to near the Metropolitan area were all moved from 55 miles per hour (mph) to 60 mph this time last year.

"The decision to raise the speed limit was an administrative one," said District 21-A Representative Marty Seifert. "We passed a bill to raise the speed limit in the House, but it didn't pass in the Senate. So the administration did some traffic studies and raised the limit."

Seifert said the feedback he's been getting from constituents has been positive.

"Some people complained that there was going to be massive carnage and people out of control (on the roads)," Seifert said. "None of that has happened, as far as I know.

"The change has improved the flow of traffic and that is what it was designed for. I think people have adjusted accordingly and we have (achieved) a consistent speed."

Dan Brannan, a Traffic Safe-ty Specialist with the Minne-sota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), offered some more empirical data.

Brannan said there has been quite the reduction in the percentage of people who drive 10 miles per hour or more over the speed limit since it was raised a year ago.

"There are those that believe just because you raise the speed limit that everyone is going to drive faster and faster," Bran-nan said. "That simply isn't so. We collected data on driving patterns before and after the limit was raised from 30 different buried stations."

What Brannan and MnDOT saw was that before the limit was raised and the speed limit was 55 mph, there were 6.8 percent of all drivers driving at 10 mph over the posted limit.

Now that the limit was raised to 60 mph, that percentage has dropped to 0.6 percent.

"We got the message out that the speed limit is the speed limit," Brannan said. "What we have done is to get drivers to group around a certain speed, which reduces passing and ultimately accidents. You can't make anyone do anything with a sign.

"But if we say that 60 mph is a safe speed and the (bulk of) drivers go that speed, it helps reduce whole groups of accidents."

Brennan said that all of the final data for the first year is going to be compiled sometime next month and should be out by October.

In addition, MnDOT has hired a company to do a survey of drivers in the state to compare driver's perceptions of the raised speed limit. A similar survey was done before the limit was raised.

On a local level, Redwood County Sheriff Rick Morris said that the change in the speed limit hasn't really had any real discernable difference with his department.

"I actually haven't given the change much thought," Morris said. "We haven't heard any comments one way or the other on the change in the speed limit. Honestly, it really hasn't affected the county one way or the other to where it's good or bad."

Morris said there have been no traffic fatalities on Highway 71 in Redwood County since the speed limit went up.

"There are a lot of wide open spaces on the roads they raised the limit on," Morris said. "I don't know that it is hurting anything or not. I guess it's what (MnDOT) and the people wanted.

"It seems that if they had any goals in mind when the did it, they have achieved them."