An effort to raise the maximum possible speed limit on North Carolina roads to 75 miles per hour raced through the state Senate on Thursday.
The chamber voted 45-1 to give the state Department of Transportation authority to set speed limits that high – up from the current 70 mph cap – for some interstates and other limited-access highways. Sixteen states already have speed limits of 75 mph or higher – but none on the highly populated East Coast.
The bill received little floor debate as only bill sponsor Sen. Neal Hunt. R-Wake, spoke briefly.
Hunt said earlier this week after it cleared a Senate committee that he wanted to give motorists the ability to drive a little faster on uncongested roads without having to worry about getting a ticket. DOT would retain decision-making on setting a “reasonable and safe speed limit” based of engineering and traffic levels.
Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, cast the only no vote. He said later he wanted more information on criteria DOT would use to determine higher speeds.
“We know that if the speed limit is moved to 75, then the average speed in those areas is going to be in excess of 80 mph,” Blue said. “It’s just a question of what the safety issues are.”
The bill now goes to the House, where transportation committee co-chairman Rep. Frank Iler said he didn’t know yet how the legislation would be handled. But Iler said a 75 mph may limit be reasonable on roads like Interstate 40 in eastern North Carolina, which he prepared to drive late Thursday to his Brunswick County home.
“Most of the people there will be driving 75 mph, so I think that small increase on that straight stretch of wide, good road is probably OK,” Iler said. “I wouldn’t want to see it in heavily populated areas.”
Other highways that are less traveled or less populated may include I-77 above Statesville or Down East along U.S. Highway 64 near to the Outer Banks.
State DOT said this week it was keeping track of the bill but didn’t have any comment on whether the agency supports the measure. The state Highway Patrol didn’t respond to a phone call and email Thursday sent to a spokesman seeking comment on the legislation.
AAA Carolinas motor club warned Wednesday that higher speed limits would lead to more traffic fatalities and a 75 mph limit only would encourage drivers who speed now to exceed a higher limit.
Current state law requires the Division of Motor Vehicles to suspend someone’s license for 30 days if the driver is convicted of excessive speeding for driving above 80 mph, or going more than 15 mph over the speed limit while also traveling above 55 mph.
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