The Bismarck Tribune’s Editorial Board opposed efforts two years ago to raise the state’s speed limit and our position hasn’t changed. We believe a higher speed limit will increase the risks on the highways and that’s not acceptable.
In the 2017 legislative session a bill to increase the speed limit to 80 mph on multi-lane interstate highways failed. This year, Rep. Jake Blum, R-Grand Forks, is the primary sponsor of legislation to raise the limit on multi-lane highways from 70 mph to 75 mph and increase it to 80 mph on interstates.
As the Tribune noted two years ago, “If the speed limit becomes 80 mph, some motorists will automatically set their cruise speed at 85. They figure if they are slightly over the speed limit the patrol won't bother to stop them no matter what the patrol's public stance is.”
We think that’s still true. Under the present law, anyone going 75 mph on the interstate will have trouble keeping count of the vehicles passing them. Many motorists already ignore the speed limit with a tendency to creep higher and higher.
North Dakota has seen the number of highway fatalities decline, hitting a 10-year low in 2018. There were 104 highway deaths in 2018, 12 fewer than 2017 and the lowest since 2018. It’s a good trend, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with it. More than 100 people dying on the roads is still too many.
Under the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s Vision Zero strategy the goal is 75 annual fatalities by 2025. It’s a challenging goal, but doable. It will be more difficult to achieve if we increase the speed limit. The faster we go, the more likely that the crashes will be deadly.
We should be thinking about ways to make road travel safer. One proposal to do that comes from Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks. He introduced a bill to change the state’s secondary seat belt law to a primary law. The change would allow law enforcement officers to stop and cite motorists and passengers who aren’t wearing a seat belt. Under present law motorists must be stopped for another violation to be cited for not buckling up. Present law does provide for primary enforcement of seat belt use for minors.
Under Kreun’s bill there would be a $50 fine and seat belt use would be required in the front and back seats. The Tribune favors the legislation.
Blum argues his speed limit bill is about efficiency. "Our state is really a corridor of commerce, and I think this bill reflects that. It will allow for more efficient travel for North Dakotans, and given modern vehicles are so technologically advanced and built for sustained speed and travel, I think this is the right thing to do," Blum said.
We disagree with his argument. Last year there were 104 people who didn’t reach their destinations, that wasn’t very efficient. Legislators should vote for safety and give North Dakotans a chance to reach the Vision Zero goal.