LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas opened a 45-day comment period Monday on whether highway officials should let motorists drive at higher speeds and within minutes had elicited confessions from drivers who wrote that, while they themselves speed, other drivers are going even faster.
Legislators this year approved raising interstate highway speeds to 75 mph and said motorists on other highways should be allowed to go faster, too, if engineering studies show it can be done safely.
The study looked a four groups of highways in Arkansas a recommended the following speed limits:
The Arkansas Department of Transportation had said previously it appeared higher speed limits would be appropriate, but has now posted its ideas online and will take public comment through December 13.
“With the speed limit being 60 I have people passing me when I'm driving about 64, looking like they're driving about 80,” a motorist from Hoxie wrote. “If you raise the speed limit, people are going to think they need to drive 90 or faster. ... Please don't raise it.”
Highway department spokesman Danny Straessle said motorists who note in their remarks that they exceed the speed limit won't be prosecuted for their comments: “I think they have to be observed by law enforcement for that to happen.”
Eleven other states have raised their speed limits to 75 mph, while neighboring Texas and six other states have limits at 80 mph and up.
Straessle said those 18 states generally have long stretches of straight, flat roads through unpopulated areas.
Much of Arkansas is hilly, with plenty of truck traffic.
More than half of the 40,000 vehicles that travel daily between Little Rock and Memphis, Tennessee, mostly on Interstate 40, are 18-wheelers.
“If the limit is raised to 75, they will be going 85-90. ... I'm on the interstate 3-4 times a week and it feels like I'm in a NASCAR race,” another motorist wrote.
Straessle said a highway department study showed that 85 percent of the state's drivers travel at 71 mph or less in 70 mph zones. Traffic engineers recommend that speed limits be within 5 mph of the 85th percentile speed, according to the state agency.
If Arkansas raises the rural interstate speed limit to 75 mph, it would give drivers a span of five contiguous states along I-40 with speed limits of 75 or higher — Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
The recommendation for higher speed limits in Arkansas comes despite a study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that shows a definite trend of increased fatality risk when speed limits are raised.
The study shows a 5 mph increase in the maximum state speed limit was associated with an 8 percent increase in fatality rates on interstates and freeways and a 4 percent increase on other roads.
This increase in risk has been so great that it has now largely offset the beneficial effects of some other traffic strategies, the institute report said.