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Editorial: Bad for safety, bad for the environment

New Hampshire, according to Exeter demographer Peter Francese, is now the third oldest state in the nation, as measured by median age, and its population is aging faster than that of any other state. It is a tourist state and many of the people on its highways, including those driving unwieldy campers, are retirees. Reaction time decreases with age. Vehicle stopping distance increases with speed, dramatically so at high speeds and when pavement is wet.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire is trying to do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat climate change and conserve energy. Vehicle fuel consumption increases dramatically with speed and greenhouse emissions increase, too. One Department of Energy study found that, for a vehicle that gets its best mileage at 55 miles per hour, efficiency declines by 8 percent at 65 mph and by 23 percent at 75 mph.

So what did the New Hampshire House do last week? It voted overwhelmingly to raise the speed limit on Interstate 93 from Canterbury north from 65 mph to 70 mph. The argument that seems to have carried the day – that laws routinely ignored should be revised so most people obey them – seems logical.

But it ignores the reality that in the real world, speed limits, within reason, are flexible.

No trooper is going to cite someone for going 3 or even 5 miles over the speed limit. Raise the limit, and motorists who now routinely travel at 72 or 75 mph will cruise at 80 mph or more.

Increasing auto fuel efficiency and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a national goal. Raising the speed limit mocks that goal and makes travel, in a rapidly aging state, all the more precarious. The Senate should reject the speed limit increase.

Legacy Comments1

New Hampshire's rural interstates had a fatality rate of 0.81 -- FAR FAR LOWER than the rates of 2.08 to 13.32 on most other rural roads (2009). Why? Fatalities commonly occur at intersections, sharp curves, and where opposing traffic is separated by only yellow stripes of paint -- such hazards are "designed out" of interstates. Rural interstates are the fastest, safest, and most fuel-efficient highways, and carry long-distance travelers and tourists. They deserve a higher speed limit.

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