Michigan lawmakers are mulling where they should change the process of how speed limits are set on city streets to ensure postings are scientific and safe.
Senate Bill (SB) 795 was introduced on Wednesday, Nov. 3 and is co-sponsored by state Sens. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek). Under the bill, prima facie speed limits can be changed by local officials if an engineering study is conducted by either a private company or the Michigan State Police (MSP).
“There has been an ongoing problem with some jurisdictions having speed traps — they are under-posting what the true speed limit should be,” Jones said.
The proposal states that an established speed limit on state highways shall be posted within 5 miles-per-hour (mph) of how fast the 85th percentile of motorists are traveling in free-flowing traffic. Speeds must not go below the 75th percentile once scientific standards determine the average speed of traffic. The new speed limits must be accepted by the MSP and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).
“According to studies, if we do speed zones in this manner there are less accidents, but if speed limits are under-posted, there are more accidents,” Jones said.
Jones added that determining the safest speed limit scientifically is the method used across the country.
“It’s a scientific method that is done nationwide, but some cities found loopholes,” said Jones, who cited a segment of Grand River Avenue in East Lansing where police were writing a groundswell of tickets and collecting the fines.
“As a former police officer in Eaton County with 31 years of experience, an officer can write plenty of tickets that are appropriate with proper and posted speed limits,” Jones said. “If they under-post and issue a ticket for the speed the person should be traveling, not only does the person get a huge fine, but three years of higher auto insurance (premiums). This is abuse.”
Nofs, too, comes from a law enforcement background as a former MSP commander.
“The purpose of my bill written with Nofs and a former sheriff was to team up to stop speed traps,” Jones said.
Should a highway segment be determined to have a design speed lower than the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic, the road authority in the jurisdiction may post advisory speed signs.
The maximum speed limit on all freeways would be 70 mph unless an engineering and traffic investigation determines otherwise, but can not be less than 55 miles per hour.
“Studies have shown since 1941 that when speed limits are under-posted, more traffic crashes occur,” said Nofs. “This bill will ensure that the proper safe speeds are posted.”
Moreover, the bill currently calls for the elimination of school speed zones around public and private high schools. However, an engineering study would determine the need for an established school zone, and the prima facie speed limit shall be in force no more than 30 minutes before but no more than 1 hour before school starts and after it’s dismissed.
“Bills are works in progress and as they go through committee, some areas would be exempt from the studies such as schools, parks, and subdivisions,” Jones said.
The bill is currently in the hands of the Senate Transportation Committee.