Safety and consumer advocates against raising speed limit in Florida

TALLAHASSEE -- The Autobahn, it isn’t.

But traversing Florida’s arterial roadways might get a bit quicker under a proposal gaining steam in the Legislature to boost speed limits on highways throughout the state.

The idea is already sparking comparisons in the Capitol to the German federal highway system with no speed limits.

The “high speed” bill passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday, but not before highway safety groups and some lawmakers fretted the higher speeds could fuel road-rage and make highways less safe.


PHOTOS: 2013 SunFest Music Festival

The bill would allow the Florida Department of Transportation to boost maximum speed limits on four-lane Interstate highways from 70 miles per hour to 75 mph. Highways with 65-mph and 60-mph limits could also get five-mile-per-hour bumps if the Department of Transportation deems it necessary to help with traffic snarls.

Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the effort was aimed at trying to adjust to more vehicles on the roadways, and its supporters say there is no evidence that higher speed limits make the roads any less safer.

“This bill simply allows additional flexibility so they can use best practices … to set limits based on research and science,” he told the panel.

But critics said it would cause already reckless and harried drivers to push the envelope further.

“The highways of Florida are not the German Autobahn. I’m really concerned about lives,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

She said driving in Tampa is already hazardous, and she always stays in the far-right lane to avoid people who are cruising much faster than the posted limits.

“It’s congested. There’s accelerated road rage. There are people texting. There are people all over the place,” Joyner said before voting against the bill.

“People are all fired up now. … I don’t want to give people another opportunity to inflict their rage on the people of the state.”

DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad told the panel the department would take current speeding trends and road-rage incidents into consideration before it raised limits anywhere. The DOT would also study any stretch of Interstates 4, 10, 75 and 95 for other natural or “fixed” hazards like vegetation before deciding whether the areas were suitable for higher speed limits.

“That doesn’t mean that every facility would get its speed-limit raised to 75 mph,” said Prasad, who added the department would focus on regions where there is “demand” for higher limits.