Speed laws change for dirt roads
By Aileen Wingblad
and Dan Meisler

New rules for speed limits on gravel roads could mean faster traffic around the state, but probably won’t have much impact in Livingston County.

The new rules went into effect last week, and set the speeds based on the number of driveways within a stretch of road.

The effect is that in much of the state, 25 mph speed-limit signs will be removed, and the default of 55 mph will be the new limit.

In Livingston County, Road Commission Managing Director Mike Craine said, officials have been doing it in the way set by the new law for years already.

“We have a few (that may have to be changed),” Craine said. “And we’re going to do the review.”

Craine added that the reviews would be done in areas requested by residents.

The rule change was championed by officials with the Michigan State Police. They said many of the gravel roads had unrealistically low posted speed limits.

The change corrects these inappropriate limits, which, according to Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Thad Stevenson, will actually result in people driving slower — not faster — on these roads.

“It’s a phenomenon that we can’t explain, and people typically don’t believe it at first. But taking away an unrealistically slow speed limit doesn’t cause people to drive faster,” said Stevenson, citing a substantial amount of data from federal, state and county studies. “In fact, all things being equal, people drive slower on unposted roads than they do on 25 mph roads.”

Stevenson said vehicle crash statistics show most people are “inherently good drivers” — and typically choose an appropriate speed on roads, gravel and otherwise.

“If most people weren’t good, prudent and safe drivers, based on the number of cars on the road, we would see crashes all the time. And we don’t,” he said. “Overall, it’s a rare thing.”

Bill Schimmel says he’s seen more than his share of car accidents occur near his home on Old Plank Road in the Milford area, where he’s lived for the past 35 years.

As he recalls, most of them occurred when Old Plank’s speed limit was set at 55 miles per hour — before citizens successfully petitioned several years ago to have it lowered to 25 mph. Now, it will go back to 55 mph.

“It’s going to be chaos,” Schimmel said.

Old Plank Road isn’t the only roadway affected. The Huron Valley community is saying goodbye to the 25 mph speed limit on stretches of 46 gravel roads throughout the community.

Highland resident Danielle McCluskey-Schink also is concerned. She lives on Lone Tree Road, one of Highland’s 13 gravel roads that now have an unposted speed limit.

“This is going to be a significant problem,” McCluskey-Schink said of the rule change. “Even with the 25 mph speed limit, some people are traveling 50 or 60 mph. What are they going to do when it’s 55 mph?”

McCluskey-Schink added that the large trees that line the roadway and Lone Tree’s poor condition make it even more dangerous to travel at high speeds than other, better-maintained roads.

What’s more, she said, Lone Tree handles an unusually high volume of traffic compared to most other gravel roads due to its proximity to Milford High School, Heritage Elementary School and the Huron Valley Schools transportation department.

“People are going to get hurt. It’s going to be mayhem,” McCluskey-Schink said. “To imagine they’d increase the speed limit is just mind-boggling.”

Officials at the Road Commission for Oakland County opposed the new rules, but no other counties in Michigan joined them.

Oakland County road officials plan to remove all the residential 25 mph speed limit signs by the end of November.

Contact Aileen Wingblad at (248) 685-1507, ext. 22, or at awingblad@gannett.com; or Dan Meisler at (517) 552-2857 or at dmeisler@gannett.com.