New Jersey's 13th Legislative District

Senator Declan O'Scanlon

Senator Declan O'Scanlon

O’Scanlon Introduces Fact-Based Speed Limit Bill

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Says Engineers Should Set Proper Speed Limits

Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) has introduced legislation requiring speed limits be set according to the nationally recognized ’85th percentile’ formula, the speed at which 85 percent of drivers are traveling.

Sen. Declan O’Scanlon’s legislation requires speed limits be set according to the nationally recognized ’85th percentile’ formula, the speed at which 85 percent of drivers are traveling. (SenateNJ.com)

“There are two critical take-always from the initiative I announce today. First, I’m not arguing for the raising or lowering of any speed limit. On the contrary, my position is that we need to remove legislators and bureaucrats from the speed limit setting process and empower highway traffic safety engineers to do their jobs unencumbered by political influence,” said O’Scanlon.

“Second, changing speed limits WILL NOT CHANGE SPEEDS DRIVEN. Study after study (see links below) has been done raising and lowering speed limits and there is virtually no change in the speeds people actually drive. The belief that people travel some set level above speed limits is a fallacy. If you set speed limits based on sound engineering criteria people comply. Any competent traffic safety engineer knows that you don’t dictate speeds people drive through random, arbitrary signs. You set speed limits to reflect how the vast majority of people would naturally behave. This concept should scare no one on the road,” O’Scanlon continued. “We are not talking about changing people’s speeds. We are talking about having speed limits reflect the speeds people are already driving so that we have a better, more uniform flow of traffic. By doing this we will get the smoothest, safest level of traffic flow and inflict the least amount of arbitrary punishment on people behaving reasonably.”

O’Scanlon’s legislation requires the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA), and South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) to utilize traffic engineering/85th percentile studies to set speed limits.

Additionally, the agencies must reevaluate speed limits at least every ten years or when a road is substantially altered. Should there be a substantial increase in the accident rate, the posted speed limit may be reduced by five miles per hour, but not less than the 67th percentile speed.

“The average motorist in New Jersey is already driving 75 mph on virtually all of our limited access highways, because that’s the speed most comfortable for the flow of traffic. On more curved stretches of the parkway you see drivers slow down to what they’re comfortable at, that would be considered as well in this formula. I’m not the one who should be setting speed limits. It should be based on sound engineering criteria. Our goal here is to improve traffic flow and safety and be fair to drivers. Right now virtually 100 posted of drivers on our under-posted limited access highways are breaking the law. Either they/we are all reckless, homicidal maniacs, or our method of setting speed limits is seriously flawed.”

“Those who argue that increasing limits would cause people to drive faster or our roads to become less safe or that somehow New Jersey is ‘different’ from other states need look no further than New Jersey itself. When we increased the speed limit from 55 to 65 mph back in the mid 1990s we heard all the scare tactics and claims. We were going to have carnage and pandemonium on our highways. Yet once the limit was raised we saw almost no change in speeds and no negative impact on safety. Almost every other state has taken some action to make their speed limits more fair and reasonable and not one of them has looked back. It’s time for New Jersey to as well. I’m going to drop my mic now.”

The bill would limit the fine for a speeding violation to $20 on any roadway where a traffic engineering study has not been completed. Fines and penalties for non-speed related offenses, like driving under the influence, refusal of a breathalyzer, or using a cell phone while driving, are assessed as normal.

“People want engineering and fact-based laws,” O’Scanlon continued. “It’s not the job of a greedy bureaucrat looking for ticket revenue or an elected official pandering. Relying on sound engineering will accomplish the greatest amount of compliance, the least amount of speed differential between cars on the road, the greatest amount of safety, and the least amount of punishment.”

Related studies:

Texas DOT: Speed – Understanding design, operating,
and posted speed

NJDOT: The 36-Month Study Report on 65 MPH Speed Limit in New Jersey

National Motorists Association: New Jersey Speed Limit Report

National Motorists Association: New York DOT Study

National Motorists Association: Safety & Setting Speed Limits

Michigan: Establishing Realistic Speed Limits

Utah: Drivers comply with 80 mph speed limit better than 75

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