Police give views on speed limit hikes

Haley Gustafson | Daily Press A speed limit sign posts a 55 mph speed limit on a section of US 2 and 41 in Wells Township while traffic flows along last week. Gov. Rick Synder recently signed legislation that could possibly raise speed limits from 55 mph to 65 mph on over 900 miles of rural highways in Michigan after speed studies are conducted.

ESCANABA — Michigan motorists may be able to drive faster on rural highways under legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder to raise speed limits throughout the state. Locally, law enforcement officials have mixed feelings about the possible speed limit increases on roadways, noting there are both positives and negatives.

Last month, Snyder signed a bill that will allow speed limits to be raised from 55 mph to 65 mph on over 900 miles of rural highway and 70 mph to 75 mph on over 600 miles of interstate highways that are I, US, or M-numbered. These limits could be raised after a speed study is conducted, and the new limit is no more than what 15 percent of drivers are already exceeding.

Delta County Sheriff Ed Oswald doesn’t see the changes in speed limits to be an issue throughout the area and said it all depends on where the motorist is traveling.

“I don’t think we’ll see more accidents,” he said.

He explained it will take some time to see which roads the limits will be raised on, but he doesn’t foresee the increases on the highways to be problematic, noting that on the stretch of roadway north toward M-35 and just north of Rapid River, motorists are already driving an average of 62 mph.

Oswald said modern vehicles can handle traveling at the faster speeds than cars in the past, noting headlights are brighter and brakes are more efficient, making visibility easier and stopping time faster.

One negative Oswald pointed out is some drivers like to take it a little too slow going at speeds of 40-48 mph, and once the speed limits are raised, this could cause problems. In the past when speed limits have risen, those drivers also increase their speeds to keep up with the traffic on the road, he said.

Oswald also said he doesn’t see the amount of speeding tickets given out rising with the increased speeds.

Gladstone Public Safety Director Paul Geyer said he is remaining “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of speed increases, noting there are benefits but also risks.

“I’m concerned about (the) rising of speeds limits because injuries tend to be more severe when accidents do occur,” said Geyer.

But, he said he also sees the Legislature’s point of view of raising speeds on rural highways such as the Seney Stretch, M-35, or portions of US 2, because they are straighter, flatter distances of roadway and there tends to be less traffic.

Geyer also mentioned that cars are built better and can withstand higher rates of speed.

IAs for a possible increase in speeding tickets, Geyer said he doesn’t see that happening. He said some motorists tend to travel a mile or two above the 55 mph speed limit in general, so there’s always a chance of getting pulled over by a police officer.

“I think there’s always that perception or notion of how much above the speed limit can you go before getting stopped,” he said.

In general, Geyer said he is remaining positive and is interested in looking into the bill more as the year progresses and speed studies are conducted.

“Overall, I’m remaining open-minded about it,” said Geyer.