Can't drive 55?

February 21, 2003 12:00 am

There is a common sense compromise to be reached on speed limits in Oregon.

There are also more pressing topics for lawmakers to address.

As the state issues pink slips to state troopers and sends thousands of senior and disabled Oregonians into limbo over health care and housing assistance, we shouldn't be debating the speed limit.

Let's solve the speed limit debate in a jiff and get back to work improving the efficiency of state government in more tangible ways than the rate of travel.

Rep. Randy Miller, R-Lake Oswego, wants to empower the Oregon Department of Transportation to review speed limits on Interstate freeways, where the limit is 65 mph, and rural highways, where the limit is 55 mph. Miller's proposal grants the agency authority to raise the limits for passenger cars to 75 mph and 65 mph, respectively.

Similar proposals in past legislatures shriveled under the withering veto power of Dr. John Kitzhaber, who insisted higher speed limits would increase the risk of traffic fatalities.

While it was one of many stands that earned Kitzhaber contempt, the good doctor was essentially right. Driving is a leading cause of death in America among certain age groups, and driving fast only increases the risk of accident.

Lawmakers must consider not what the speed limit signs say, but how drivers read them. Many drivers interpret an Interstate sign declaring a 65 mph limit to mean 66 to 73 is A-OK. A 75 mph limit will inevitably lead to speeds in excess of 80 mph. We think most Oregonians would agree that is unacceptable.

There are extensive portions of the state's two-lane highway system, however, that might warrant a 60 or 65 mph limit.

Allowing ODOT flexibility to raise the speed limit on Highway 30 between North Powder and Haines, or Highway 7 through the Bowen Valley, makes sense if those roads are engineered to allow such speeds.