Rural Minnesota drivers praise speed limit hike, safety experts worry

Many rural drivers are applauding Minnesota for pushing the speed limit to 60 mph on most two-lane state highways, a move that's also been met with criticism from road safety experts.

Posted: Jan 25, 2019 2:44 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Many rural drivers are applauding Minnesota for pushing the speed limit to 60 mph on most two-lane state highways, a move that's also been met with criticism from road safety experts.

More than two-thirds of rural highways slated for the increase have already posted the new limit, and the rest should be completed this year, according to state traffic officials. Rural residents pushed for the change, but some national safety experts fear the 5 mph bump will lead to more fatalities, the Star Tribune reported.

"Raising the speed limit never comes without a cost," said Russ Rader of Virginia-based nonprofit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Rader said raising the speed limit reduces a driver's ability to quickly brake and survive a crash. Rural two-lane roads are more risky because of hazards including ditches and trees, Rader said.

People often drive faster than the posted speed limits, said Kara Macek of the Governors Highway Safety Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

"It's the buffer zone," she said. "People don't think they're going to get caught if they drive 5 or 10 miles over the speed limit."

The Minnesota Department of Transportation examined roadway geometrics and hazards along 7,000 miles (11,260 kilometers) of rural, two-lane state highways before determining where the 55 mph speed limit could be increased, according to a five-year study released this week.

When the speed limit was 55 mph, Minnesota traffic officials found that people frequently drove between 63 mph and 65 mph, said Brad Estochen, a state traffic safety engineer. With a 60 mph speed limit, people often drove between 64 mph and 66 mph, he said.

The change merely decriminalizes what people were already doing, said Republican Sen. Torrey Westrom, who pushed for the speed limit increase.

"No one liked the idea that they were breaking the law and being subject to expensive tickets," he said.

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