Ohio Senate approves speed-limit increase for truckers on interstates
Increase to 65 mph clears Senate
Thursday, March 19, 2009 Karen Farkas and Aaron Marshall
Plain Dealer Reporters
The Senate accelerated a push for a uniform speed limit in Ohio by approving an increase in the speed limit for truckers on Ohio's interstates from 55 to 65 miles an hour.
The speed increase is part of the state transportation budget the Senate approved Wednesday by a 22-9 margin. The House already approved its version of the budget, which now is expected to go to a House/Senate conference committee to iron out differences.
The surprise move by Senate Republicans means truck drivers could soon be going the same speed as cars. Only the Ohio Turnpike currently allows truckers as well as cars to travel 65 mph.
The proposal means any vehicle and noncommercial buses weighing more than 8,000 pounds when empty would be able to put a little more pedal to the metal.
Raising the speed limit would please truckers but upset the State Highway Patrol.
"Obviously our concern is with our previous study of the Ohio Turnpike that saw a dramatic increase in fatal and injury crashes involving commercial trucks," said Lt. Shawn Davis, spokesman for the patrol. The study looked at non-weather-related crashes after the speed limit for trucks was raised from 55 to 65 in 2004.
Davis said truckers generally try to drive faster than the speed limit, which can lead to accidents.
"They look to see where their cushion is without getting stopped and if the limit is 65, they may run 68 or 69," he said.
Ohio, Illinois, Oregon and California are the only four states with a 55-mph speed limit for trucks. Other states have higher limits.
And Ohio is one of only 11 states where the speed limit is different for cars and trucks.
The Senate Republicans' move comes nearly a week after they had questioned George Distel, executive director of the Ohio Turnpike Commission, about the turnpike's uniform speed limits. Distel, testifying March 12 about the turnpike's budget, said increasing the speed limit to 65 for trucks has been successful.
"The issue is that it's safer when everyone is going the same speed," said Maggie Ostrowski, spokeswoman for the Senate Republican caucus, which controls the chamber by a 21-12 margin.
In recent years, bills introduced by legislators to raise the speed limit for trucks have failed, primarily after lobbying by the highway patrol.
The Ohio Trucking Association had remained neutral on those bills, but this year decided to push for a unified speed limit, said Larry Davis, president of the Ohio Trucking Association.
Davis said truckers know they save fuel by driving slower but think it is safer to travel the same speed as cars.
He said accidents happen when cars that pass trucks cut in front of them too soon or approach trucks too fast and run into the back of them.
The highway patrol disagrees that a uniform speed is safer. Officials there have said the faster a truck goes, the longer it takes to stop, and faster trucks do more damage in a collision.