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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota is pushing the speed limit to 60 mph on most two-lane state highways.
The Star Tribune reports that state traffic officials say more than two-thirds of rural highways slated for the increase have already posted the new limit and that the rest should be completed this year.
Many rural residents pushed for the change, but some national safety experts fear the 5 mph bump will lead to more fatalities.
Russ Rader works for Virginia-based nonprofit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Rader says raising the speed limit reduces a driver’s ability to quickly brake and survive a crash. He says rural two-lane roads are more risky because of hazards including ditches and trees.
“Raising the speed limit never comes without a cost,” Rader said. “Increases in speed limits over two decades have contributed to the deaths of 33,000 people, according to the institute’s research.
It’s a matter of physics, because an impact is stronger and the damage more severe when a vehicle crashes at higher speeds, Rader said. Most crash tests are done at 35 to 40 mph because that’s considered a severe-impact speed, he explained.
“Raising the speed limit reduces the ability of the driver to brake and bring the vehicle to a survivable [crash] level,” Rader said.
Safety hasn’t been the only concern behind lower speed limits, the newspaper reported. Many states dropped speed limits to 55 mph during the 1970s oil crisis in an effort to save fuel. They adopted the lower limit if they wanted their share of federal highway funding. “It was the power of the purse that brought speeds down,” said Kara Macek of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
That law was repealed in 1995 and states began increasing speed limits, she said, noting that a stretch of road in Texas has a posted limit of 85 — the highest in the country.
Republican Sen. Torrey Westrom says the change merely decriminalizes what people were already doing.