NC House slows 75 mph speed limit bill

lbonner@newsobserver.comJune 20, 2013 

— Worries about more deaths in high-speed crashes derailed a bill that would open the possibility of legal highway speeds of 75 mph in North Carolina.

The bill was sent back to a House committee Thursday after a floor debate where talk of highway carnage in ugly wrecks overwhelmed supporters’ arguments about well-designed roads.

“After 75 miles an hour, you’re not really driving a car, you’re aiming it,” said Rep. Harry Warren, a Salisbury Republican.

The bill appeared to be on a clear path toward becoming law after sailing out of the Senate on a 45-1 vote.

Supporters say that advanced technology and improved design have made both cars and highways safer for 75 mph driving.

House proponents reminded their colleagues that state Department of Transportation engineers will know which roads are safe for speeds of 75, 5 mph higher than the current maximum. The bill would allow DOT to raise speed limits to 75 on highways where engineering and traffic studies show it would be safe.

“Our freeways are wide open,” said Rep. Tom Murry, a Morrisville Republican. “They are safe roads. I think we should let the engineers at DOT do their job.”

Lawmakers who warned of increased danger said cars and highways may be safer, but human reflexes haven’t improved and driver distractions have increased.

House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes said his mother, who rarely talks about legislation, heard about the bill and asked him, “Have you folks completely lost your mind?”

Starnes said he worried about his 16-year-old daughter, who just got her license.

“You will need helmets, body armor and everything else to go down the highway when you have a wreck,” said Starnes, a Hickory Republican. “I agree with my mother. If we pass this, I think we’ve lost our mind.”

Along the way, the House killed an amendment that would have raised the limit in the “excessive speeding” law from 80 mph to 85 mph. It’s a class 2 misdemeanor to drive either 15 mph over the speed limit or over 80 mph.

Rep. Frank Iler, an Oak Island Republican who is chairman of the Transportation Committee, said the bill may be ready for another committee debate next week after changes.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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