The N.C. House of Representatives slammed the brakes on legal 75 mph speed limits Thursday, after the N.C. Senate had taken speedy, bipartisan steps in favor of the initiative earlier this year.
The bill — amended from the Senate’s version — would have directed the N.C. Department of Transportation to study the higher speeds on four approved highways in the state, but it failed on the House floor by a 44-64 vote.
The Senate passed the original bill in April by an overwhelming 45-1 margin — an impressive degree of bipartisan agreement on a controversial issue.
Kristin Nevels, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said the risks of increasing speed limits almost always outweigh the benefits, leading to more motor vehicle injuries and deaths.
A 2002 study done by the institute found states that increased speed limits to 75 mph saw 38 percent more deaths per million vehicle miles traveled than expected.
“Our research proves that increased speed limits means a greater crash rate,” Nevels said. “That’s the main issue. It’s not a wise choice for states to make.”
The Department of Transportation would have had until Jan. 31 of next year to conduct the study and report back to the General Assembly’s joint legislative transportation oversight committee on the findings.
The Senate’s initial legislation would have made North Carolina the 17th state to have 75 mph speed limits on certain roads.
Some UNC students said they were somewhat optimistic about the idea — especially at the prospect of a shorter drive to Chapel Hill from their hometown, if Interstate 40 were to have its maximum speed raised.
UNC sophomore Joe Baldock, who lives outside Raleigh, said he would have appreciated a way of traveling back and forth to campus more efficiently.
“The 65 mph (limit on I-40) is really troublesome,” Baldock said.
Though freshman Jessie Vohwinkel has a short drive to school from her home in Chapel Hill, she said an increase would have shortened her current 35-minute commute to work.
But she echoed concerns of legislators in the House, saying she is worried that motorists who now drive 75 mph anyway would continue to speed well above the new limit.
“I think it (would) basically save some people from tickets,” Vohwinkel said. “There’s a limit to what’s safe and what’s not.”
Nevels said increasing speed limits can often be a politically popular move for legislators.
She said supporters argue that roads have been updated to manage higher speeds — but she said safer roads and cars do not necessarily prevent high-speed accidents.
“The laws of physics are still the same,” she said. “The faster you go, the harder it is to stop and the more likely you are to have a dangerous crash.”
North Carolina is one of 35 states with a maximum speed of at least 70 mph.
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