Motorists heading west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike will see something different starting at the Morgantown interchange. Effective last week, the speed limit was upped to 70 mph from the Blue Mountain interchange to Morgantown.
PennDOT also announced it will launch 70 mph pilot projects on 88 miles of Interstate 80 and 21 miles of Interstate 380 next month.
The speed limit increase, up from 65 mph on the turnpike, was approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett last fall. Proponents say the higher speed limit will move traffic faster, increasing transport efficiency for businesses and motorists.
Some say the higher speed limits can actually make the highways safer by maintaining smoother traffic flow.
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Not so fast, say the critics.
Higher speeds increase the damage and potential for injury and death when crashes occur.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, high speeds make a crash more likely because it takes longer to stop or slow down. And collisions are more deadly because crash energy increases exponentially as speeds go up.
“Raising speed limits leads to more deaths,” the institute states on its website. “People often drive faster than the speed limit, and if the limit is raised, they will go faster still. Research shows that when speed limits are raised, speeds go up, as do fatal crashes.”
PennDOT also added a word of caution in its press release: “As we increase the speed limit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, motorists need to increase their restraint behind the wheel accordingly,” said Turnpike CEO Mark Compton. “Remember, even though we’re increasing the speed limit, motorists still must obey the law and drive safely. After all, 70 mph is the maximum speed, not the mandatory speed.”
The sections of highways where the higher speed limits have been activated are pilot projects.
“PennDOT will use data collected from the pilot locations while evaluating other 65 mph roadway sections for potential 70 mph implementation in the spring or summer next year. Roadway sections that can safely accommodate the increased speed could start being signed soon after the evaluations are complete,” the press release stated.
“If everything goes well, I’d expect the remainder of the Turnpike will switch over to 70 mph speed where appropriate and safe next spring,” Compton said.
For many motorists, the higher speed limits merely legalize a driving speed they’ve been using anyway. But as both PennDOT and the IIHS note, therein lies the problem. Motorists will now up their game to 75 or 80 mph, speeds that are unsafe both for those motorists and others on the road.
Driving is becoming a game of one-upmanship and intensity to own the road. And while we welcome the opportunity to get through Pennsylvania more easily at a higher speed, the new speed limits must come with strong words of caution.
Going 70 mph does not mean pushing it to 80.
Let’s be smart drivers, and be safe.