The Need for Speed: Is 70 mph too fast?

TROY, Ohio (WDTN) – State Police are trying to see if increased patrols on some highways will slow the increase in crashes in 70 mph zones.

Speed limits on some highways in Ohio were raised to 70 miles per hour in 2013 after approval by the state legislature.

A recent report by the Ohio Department of Public Safety has found since that time, crashes have gone up 24 percent on those stretches of highways.

In Miami County, Interstate 75 has a 70 mph speed limit and is a way of travel for as many as 65,000 vehicles a day, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“70 miles an hour – it’s very easy to get to, and it’s very easy to exceed,” said Ty Thornton, a Tennessee resident recently driving on Interstate 75 in the Miami Valley.

Exceeding the speed limit isn’t the only thing people see drivers doing on the highway.

“Driving down the road, I constantly see people doing things they shouldn’t be behind the wheel,” said Stephen Zakoor, a tractor-trailer driver.

That – combined with a need for speed – has some people concerned. Since the speed limit was raised to 70, Sue Von Aschen said she believes many drivers have increased their speeds more than another five miles per hour.

“They’ve got to sometimes be going 80, 85,” Von Aschen said. “And that’s scary.”

Von Aschen, who lives in Piqua, takes I-75 to go shopping in Lima and the Dayton areas. She said she believes lowering the speed limit is something the state should consider.

“At 65, maybe they would slow down a little bit more even on the other side – on the left lane or the middle lane,” she said.

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Public Safety

According to the Department of Public Safety report, officials found increases in several kinds of crashes. That includes a 66-percent increase in lane-change related crashes.

Despite the findings, one of the authors of the bill raising the speed limit said he believes the change was not a mistake.

“I know that my colleagues and I would not have promoted this change if we felt that there was a risk to public safety,” said Ross McGregor, who served in the Ohio House of Representatives for nearly ten years, representing Clark County.

As former chair of the subcommittee for transportation finance, his name appears on 2013’s House Bill 51, the annual transportation budget bill that included raising the speed limit to 70 mph on many stretches of the state’s highways.

A main reason for the change was to give Ohio highways a speed limit consistent with surrounding states, McGregor explained.

He said he believes officials should look at other factors before considering a speed limit change.

“What are the causes of those [crashes]?” he said. “I don’t know. Is it speed? I’m not saying it’s not, but there are a lot of other variables.”

The Ohio Department of Transportation declined our request for an interview for this story, referring us to State Police. But a Columbus spokesperson told 2 NEWS by e-mail that ODOT has the power to lower speed limits on its own.

Right now, according to the spokesperson, a speed limit change is not being considered, and ODOT will continue working with State Police to determine if any changes are needed.

“We know that the more you increase speeds, the higher the likelihood that you’re involved in a traffic crash,” said Lt. Joseph Gebhart of the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Piqua post.

Lt. Gebhart’s team oversees a roughly 40-mile stretch of Interstate 75 in Miami and Shelby counties.

“70 miles an hour on dry roads with light traffic and good visibility is really not too problematic,” he said. “When it becomes problematic is when you have inclement weather, when you have heavier traffic, when you have the people that start following too close.”

State Police have added patrols on three sections of highways with the biggest increase in crashes: mileposts 120-124 on Interstate 70 in Licking County, mileposts 180-184 on Interstate 71 in Ashland County and mileposts 20-24 on U.S. 33 in Union County.

Troopers with the Piqua post have seen a slight increase in crashes, Lt. Gebhart said, so the speed limit has not changed their patrolling tactics so far. He said continuing to educate the public on the issue is key.

“Increase the distance, put the phones down, and pay attention,” Gebhart said.

Back in Piqua, Sue Von Aschen said she’s not sure lowering the speed limit would change drivers’ habits. She said she believes safety on the roads is primarily in drivers’ hands.

“Keep your eyes open,” Von Aschen said. “Don’t be on the phone. Don’t be speeding. Watch around you as much as you can while you’re driving.”

State Police are in the middle of a six-month targeted enforcement period in those three areas with the biggest increases in crashes, according to officials. At the end of that time period, state leaders will see if that’s done anything to slow the rise in crashes before deciding how to proceed.

If you would like to see what else was in House Bill 51 in 2013, this is the Ohio Legislative Services Report on the bill:

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