Can't drive 65

July 13, 2001 12:00 am

Oregon Highway 7 blasts across the Bowen Valley on an accelerator-seducing straightaway south of Baker City.

The speed limit is 55 mph, but the driver cruising out of control can easily rev it up over 70 mph and still feel like hes sitting still in the big Eastern Oregon landscape.

That is how fast people drive.

Should it therefore be the speed limit?

Its an age-old conundrum for lawmakers. You can draw up laws that force people to be the way you want them to be, or craft laws that recognize how people act when they are left to their own devices.

Speed limits are an excellent example especially in light of the Legislatures drive to increase the speed on Oregon highways and interstates.

Drive 25 mph down Main Street? Pretty, pretty please we like our strolling tourists to not even come within a mile of their life while theyre visiting Historic Baker City.

Drive 65 on Interstate 84 between Boardman and Rufus? Now youve got potential legislation on your hands.

Sen. Randy Miller, R-Lake Oswego, championed raising speed limits statewide. Early on in the session, the senator proposed taking rural portions of Interstates 5 and 84 to 75 mph; he hoped rural highways, like the long, lonely stretch between Burns Junction and Bend, could be boosted to 65.

This wasnt just about shortening the drive time from Bend to Winnemucca, Nev.

Millers main argument hinged on this is how people drive. When his speed limit adversary Gov. John Kitzhaber, an emergency room doctor, would mention highway fatalities attributable to speed, Miller would mention realities.

This will pass, he joked, if people vote in a way consistent with their behavior.

True enough. But what passed was a watered-down version: 70 mph on rural portions of the interstate, and no change on Oregons rural highways.

Which means you are still breaking the law in Bowen Valley when you feel the need for speed instead of easing up on the accelerator.

And somebody, somewhere, who makes speed limit signs is in for a recession-fighting government contract.