On Thursday, April 1, the State of Ohio passed into law a two-year, $9.2 billion transportation budget, a budget that contains provisions permitting big rigs to travel the state’s roadways at 65mph rather than restricting them to 55mph as previous law dictated. The new speed limit becomes effective 90 days from signing.
The fact that Governor Strickland signed this law on April 1st is appropriate, as not only could it place Ohio motorists in greater danger of being involved in truck accidents, but it could also leave supporters of the change looking April foolish.
Prior to this move, Ohio was one of 11 states nationwide that restricted heavy trucks to the lower 55mph speed limit. States with truck speed limits lower than 65mph include Michigan, Illinois, California, Washington and Hawaii. In 2004 Ohio enacted laws that allowed heavy trucks to travel the Ohio turnpike at 65mph, but no other roadways in the state permitted travel at any speed above 55mph for those vehicles.
Proponents of the increased speed limit for trucks cite split speed limits as a serious danger and contend that uniform limits promote greater safety. They argue that a truck travelling 10mph slower than passenger vehicles is more likely to be rear-ended and that split speed limits create the potential for massive traffic tie-ups as big rigs clump together in slower lanes.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol disagrees. The OHP points to increased numbers of truck accidents on the Ohio turnpike since 2004’s raised truck speed limit as proof that with increased speed comes increased crashes.
I hope that I am wrong about this new law and that Ohioans do not suffer an increase in the number of truck accidents on their roadways. But my experience tells me that with the enactment of this law, it’s time for state and federal officials to redouble their efforts at maximizing enforcement of existing trucking safety laws to keep all those who travel Ohio’s roadways safe.