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State House Memo: Increase rural speed limit to 70 mph

The idea of increasing the speed limit on a northern portion of Interstate 93 from 65 mph to 70 breezed through the Democratic House and Republican Senate and now awaits Gov. Maggie Hassan’s action. Hopefully, she signs it into law and the state adopts a common-sense approach to this rural stretch of road.

As the North Country’s senator, I represent 27 percent of the state’s landmass and much of the road that would see a change. I spend many hours on I-93 driving the 100 lonely miles from my home in Dalton to the State House. My old truck shakes and begs for mercy when I get much higher than 75 mph, so I try to stick to 70. At this speed, I’m more apt to be passed than pass another vehicle – and only rarely is it crowded. Occasionally, my fellow travelers and I pass a police cruiser unnoticed.

It makes perfect sense that this quiet, country highway would operate differently than other areas. If we know anything in rural areas, it is that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. But it’s more than that. I support raising the speed limits because I believe laws need to be credible, legitimate and live in the hearts and minds of our people, not on a sign on the road. When the vast majority of the people disobey a law in plain view of the police, something is wrong.

Eventually, it weakens the authority and credibility of the state. We can make driving 70 mph illegal, but not unpopular.

I was moved by the democratic logic behind the 85-percentile rule, which is used to set many speed limits. It is based upon the idea of establishing a maximum speed by judging where the vast majority of the drivers drive. So, most speed limits reflect established behaviors, rather than change existing behaviors. It’s a rule that could easily apply to the increasing popularity of gay marriage, gambling and opposition to broad-based taxes.

I believe that if the speed limit signs were removed, most people would behave as they presently do – operating their vehicle in a manner that is safe for themselves and other motorists – which also happens to be 5 miles over the current speed limit.

(Jeff Woodburn of Dalton is a Democratic state senator.)

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