The Oklahoma legislature is moving forward with significant traffic proposals, including bills to increase the speed limit from 75 mph to 80 mph on Oklahoma turnpikes and increase the speed limit on four-lane highways from 70 mph to 75 mph.
Oklahoma is one of several states that are leaning toward higher speed limits on interstates and highways. Utah is contemplating a similar measure, and the Wyoming House of Representatives recently approved a bill to increase highway speed limits to 80 mph.
Traffic safety advocates are concerned that a speed limit of 80 mph in Oklahoma would lead to more car crashes and fatalities. High-speed traffic crashes are often deadly. Oklahoma State Police, who patrol highways, interstates and turnpikes, responded to two-thirds of all fatal auto accidents in 2012. Furthermore, the chances that someone will be injured in a traffic wreck increases exponentially the faster the vehicle is traveling.
Proponents believe that higher speeds will assure that vehicles on Oklahoma highways travel at the same pace. A report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers who go faster or slower than the flow of traffic are the most likely to be in car wrecks. Driving much faster or much slower than the speed limit is particularly dangerous.
Some assert that an Oklahoma speed limit of 80 mph would not significantly alter the state’s auto collision fatality rates. The IIHS report revealed that aggressive driving accidents Oklahoma happen more often at low speed than at high speed. Wreck sin stop-and-go traffic and at intersections are commonplace.
In contrast, highway fatalities are at historic lows. The proposals to raise speed limits capitalize on the low risk of highway driving, assuming most drivers are traveling at relatively the same speed.
The speed limit increase is among several traffic-related measures that the Oklahoma legislature is tackling in the first quarter of 2014. Senate Bill 1517 would prohibit vehicles from using the left lane on multi-lane highways for any purpose other than passing another car or truck on the right. As it stands, cars and trucks can cruise in the left lane on Oklahoma turnpikes.
Given the number of commercial trucks on Oklahoma interstates, SB 1517 would force lots of tractor-trailers into the right lane. Although this may be appealing to some, it would make more motorists merge with large trucks in traffic. Additionally the measure might end up requiring drivers to weave in and around other drivers more frequently.
Another bill,proposed by a senator with a law enforcement background, would allow police to issue traffic citations electronically, rather than having to pull motorists over for violating traffic laws. The bill has come under fire for its legal implications. Opponents say that police should assess each situation and that violators who are not pulled over would continue to drive unsafely.