Step on it?

Group to mull freeway speed for heavy trucks

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press File Photo Two semi-trucks pass under the U.S. 95 overpass Friday, April 1, 2011 while traveling on Interstate-90 in Coeur d'Alene.

A committee will meet today to decide whether to recommend to the Legislature to increase the speed limit of heavy trucks on freeways from 65 mph to 75 to match other traffic.

The group, comprised of legislators, trucking, transportation and law enforcement reps and the American Automobile Association (AAA), will examine during a meeting in Boise how safety and traffic flow are impacted by the speed limit difference.

The 2012 Idaho Legislature requested the discussion after the introduction of Senate Bill 1229, which would have increased the speed limit for heavy trucks to the same speed posted for other vehicles.

The proposal would affect tractor-trailers, 10-wheel vehicles and semis and only applies to Idaho's four interstates.

Idaho Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Hammond, who is part of the working group, will conduct the meeting.

"It would surprise me if this meeting resulted in any changes of the current status because many trucking companies govern the speed of their trucks anyway," Hammond said. "Even if the speed limit is raised, some companies already set speeds based on efficiency, tire wear (and other factors). Many trucks don't drive more than 60 anyway."

But some argue that increasing the speed limit would make freeways safer and reduce accidents because all traffic would be allowed to go the same limit.

"The value of the discussion is that, in high speed traffic, if you get the majority of traffic going the same speed you'd have less movement of changing lanes," Hammond said.

Hammond said he hasn't heard much evidence showing speed differentials causes significantly more accidents.

Many states don't have different speed limits on freeways, and that used to be the case in Idaho.

"The differentials came into being when changes were allowed for higher tonnage for trucks," Hammond said.

Hammond said the idea of making the speed limit the same for all freeway traffic deserves discussion, but he doesn't see much value in passing a law.

"(Truckers and other motorists) are still going to drive different speeds, so the net result wouldn't likely bring a lot of change in the activity on the road," he said.

Hammond said today's meeting is expected to be the only one on whether the committee will make a recommendation.

Dave Carlson, AAA spokesman, said it would be premature to discuss his agency's position on the idea heading into the meeting.

"We're prepared to voice our position and to raise additional questions," he said.

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