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Another run at higher speed limits

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 08. 2013 9:19PM

CONCORD - A Manchester state representative makes his annual pitch to raise the speed limit on major highways this week.

State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, has been trying for years to let people go faster on highways because, he says, they're speeding anyway.

Vaillancourt says he will sometimes drive at 65 mph through the state and compares the number of cars he passes to the number of cars that pass him.

"I am passed by 85 percent of the people I come in contact with," he said. "It's clear that people are breaking the law 85 percent of the time and any law broken on a regular basis is something the people are saying they don't want."

In Vaillancourt's view, the public's tolerance for breaking the speed limit reduces a law to a guideline that is rarely enforced.

Supporters of higher speed limits say that if one law becomes little more than a suggestion, it reduces respect for other laws.

Vaillancourt has filed two bills, one to raise the speed limit to 70 on most stretches of Interstate highway in the state, and another to increase it to 75, so to give fellow lawmakers a choice of how fast to let people drive on the open road."

There is this old canard that speed kills; it's not speed that kills, it's divergence from speed that kills," Vaillancourt said. "People that are going too slow are the ones who cause accidents because they force people to weave around them."

The insurance industry disagrees. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety acknowledges that researchers have suggested that vehicles traveling both much slower and much faster than average are more likely to become involved in a wreck.

But materials prepared for the group also says crashes at faster speeds are more severe.

Lawmakers in Maine approved a bill two years ago increasing turnpike speeds to 75 from Old Town to Houlton on the heels of a state-sponsored study that found that people were going 75 anyway.

Some people fear that a higher legal speed limit means people will go even faster than they do now, that a faster legal limit means an even faster actual speed at which motorists can feel somewhat confident they drive without the stomach-churning chagrin of seeing blue lights in the rear view mirror.

Vaillancourt admits to about eight speeding tickets since being licensed as a teen, including a well-publicized incident a few years ago in which a records check turned up suspended license he attributes to clerical errors in Vermont.

He is joined by other lawmakers from the Manchester area in his quest for a higher speed limit; his annual raise-the-speed-limit legislation is co-sponsored by state Reps. John Burt, R-Goffstown, and Daniel Tamburello, R-Londonderry, as well as Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford.

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