A bill to increase the number of 80 mph speed zones was passed in the Utah House with a 69-5 vote.
The Utah Department of Transportation would add more strips where drivers could go 80 mph along Interstates 15, 80 and 84 if approved by the senate.
Current law has allowed several 80 mph test areas on I-15 in places such as Nephi and Cedar City for the past four years. If this bill is approved it would let drivers go 80 mph from Santaquin to St. George, which covers nearly 240 miles.
HB 83 also proposes 80 mph zones to be placed on I-15 from Brigham City to the Idaho state line, on I-84 between Tremonton and Idaho, and on I-80 from the Nevada line to the Tooele-Stansbury exit.
There are over 800 students at BYU who call Nevada home, and more than 1,700 from Idaho, and many are excited about the new changes they could see on their drives home. TJ Thomas, a computer science major from Las Vegas, Nev., drives home at least once a month and sees the potential changes as a reasonable step.
“I really am excited for this change. People already drive that fast anyways, and making it legal means faster travel times and fewer problems with police. I think if the speed limit was upped to 80, traffic violations would go down,” Thomas said.
In Thomas’s experience he feels the change from 75 to 80 mph in these certain areas will only be positive for drivers who regularly use the roads.
“I’ve never seen any traffic or accidents while driving in the 80 mph test areas. The difference between 75 and 80 isn’t enough to make people lose control of their cars,” Thomas said.
Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, is the sponsor of the bill and said research proves this bill is realistic, needed and necessary. UDOT has conducted research since 2008 and found that 85 percent of drivers were actually driving 82 mph in the 75 mph zone. Therefore, he supports the bill because of the logic behind it.
“The bottom line is people were already going that fast and now they can do it legally. People have a comfort of how fast they will go, and it is around 82–84,” Dunnigan said.
Dunnigan said the increase in speed limit will only be placed on roads which qualify and are deemed safe enough. These parts of the highway would have to be straight for a long distance and have strips that are fairly level, with no sharp curves or mountainous topography.
Supporters of the bill believe this change in speed limit will have little to no negative impact on the safety of travelers. In the research Dunnigan and a team of engineers conducted, they found when the speed limit was 75 mph the average driver went 82 mph. When they increased it to 80 mph in the test areas the average driver went 84 mph.
“We found that drivers only increased their speed by two miles per hour. It was almost the same. The only difference now is that people can do it legally,” Dunnigan said.
In their four-year study, researchers found that when the speed limit was increased to 80 mph there was actually a decrease of accidents by 11 percent in one area and 20 percent in another, with no fatalities. Dunnigan jokingly attributes this to people actually looking at the road instead of checking for cops pulling them over.
Ty Sivertsen, a political science major from Las Vegas, agrees with Dunnigan in that there will be no issue of safety with an increase in speed.
“Most people go 80 mph already, so what difference would it make? In all the times I’ve driven through the 80 mph test zones, I have never seen an accident or problem,” Sivertsen said.
Sivertsen drives on I-15 a couple times per semester to visit home and thinks most regular travelers will be supportive.
“Really, since everyone is already going around 80 mph on I-15 this law change will not have much impact on the way people drive on I-15. I think anyone who drives these roads regularly will hope this bill passes,” Sivertsen said.
Some opposers of the bill have questioned if the increase in speed would cause an increase in air pollution. Dunnigan said there is nothing to worry about. The effects on air pollution would be very little for two reasons. One, the places UDOT is proposing the change are in rural areas, where the pollution level is relatively low. Two, UDOT measured the pollutants in modern cars and found that there is little to no difference in the level of pollution with the increase in mph.
“Modern cars are not like old cars where the faster you went the more pollution it created. In the newer cars, there is hardly any difference if you are going 65, 75 or 80 mph,” Dunnigan said.
Because Utah is such a large state with lots of distance to travel, there was a large need and desire from travelers to increase the speed limits. Many supporters of the bill believe with the increase will come with a better rate of compliance from drivers.
The bill will wait until the senate makes a final decision.