NH Sen Jeff Woodburn - Increase rural speed limit to 70 mph

The idea of increasing the speed limit on a northern portion of Interstate 93 from 65-mph to 70 breezed through the Democratic House and Republican Senate and now awaits Governor Maggie Hassan’s action. Hopefully, she signs it into law and the state adopts a common sense approach to this rural stretch of road.

As the North Country’s Senator, I represent 27-percent of the state’s landmass and much of the road that would see a change. I spend many hours on I-93 driving the 100- lonely miles from my home in Dalton to the State Capitol.  My old truck shakes and begs for mercy when I get much higher than 75-mph, so I try to stick to 70. At this speed, I’m more apt to be passed than pass another vehicle – and only rarely is it crowded. Occasionally, my fellow travelers and I pass a police cruiser unnoticed.

It makes perfect sense that this quiet, country highway would operate differently than other areas.  If we know anything in rural areas, it is that a one-size fits all approach doesn’t work.  But it’s more than that. I support raising the speed limits because I believe laws need to be credible, legitimate and live in the hearts and minds of our people, not on a sign on the road.  When the vast majority of the people disobey a law in plain view of the police -- something is wrong. Eventually, it weakens the authority and credibility of the state.  We can make driving 70-mph illegal, but not unpopular.

I was moved by the democratic logic behind the 85-percentile rule, which is used to set many speed limits.  It is based upon the idea of establishing a maximum speed by judging where the vast majority of the drivers drive.  So, most speed limits reflect established behaviors, rather than change existing behaviors.  It’s a rule that could easily apply to the increasing popularity of gay marriage, gambling and opposition to broad base taxes. 

I believe that if the speed limit signs were removed, most people would behave as they presently do – operating their vehicle in a manner that is safe for themselves and other motorists -- which also happens to be 5-miles over the current speed limit.  

(Jeff Woodburn, of Dalton, is a Democratic State Senator, teacher, writer and child advocate)