NMA E-Newsletter #288: A Horse of a Different Color

AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, was founded in 1901 to lobby for driver and passenger rights, fair laws, and safer vehicles. It has long since morphed into an insurance and financial services giant. If there is any doubt about that, check out its profile at Hoovers.com where AAA’s primary competitors are listed as American Express, Allstate and State Farm. Need further proof? By its own reckoning, AAA collects $8.5 billion in insurance premiums annually from its 50+ million members.

Nowhere is the difference between the interests of the driving public and the insurance industry better illustrated than by examining AAA public statements. The overall organization consists of several dozen semi-autonomous regional motor clubs that voice positions on key issues such as ticket cameras—mostly in favor of—and speed limit reform where their pronouncements are typically along the lines of slower is safer.

This was illustrated again recently when AAA Idaho released a statement that in effect said “not so fast” to the Idaho Transportation Department when the ITD announced, backed by a bill passed by the legislature and by its own traffic engineering studies, that it planned to raise the posted speed limits of stretches of Interstates 15, 84 and 86 from 75 to 80 mph on July 1st.

Such is the influence of AAA that the ITD backed off of its earlier commitment and said it would need more time to review the planned speed limit increase after AAA Idaho’s statements were released to the press. That triggered the following email exchange between NMA President Gary Biller and ITD Spokesperson Nathan Jerke:

June 25, 2014

Dear Mr. Jerke,

The National Motorists Association is a membership-based drivers’ rights organization that strongly supports speed limits that are based on the 85th percentile speed as determined from the study of actual traffic flow. We applaud ITD’s engineering-based decision to raise the limits on Interstates 15, 84, and 86 from 75 to 80 mph. Similar changes by other states such as Utah and Texas have resulted in greater compliance to the posted limit with no appreciable effect on safety statistics.

In an article published earlier today at magicvalley.com — http://magicvalley.com/news/local/state-moving-too-fast-with-higher-speed-limits-safety-advocates/article_d12fc016-af0e-55a2-a976-eb8ac7e025eb.html — a spokesperson from AAA Idaho raises questions as to the methodology used and even to the wisdom of raising the speed limit from a safety standpoint. You are quoted in the same article as noting that the engineering and traffic studies that substantiate the 5 mph increase in interstate speed limits have been performed. Can you please forward a copy of those studies to us at the NMA or provide a link to the information so that we can help educate the driving public and assure our Idaho members of the engineering soundness of the speed limit increase?

Thank you.

Gary Biller

June 30, 2014

Dear Mr. Jerke,

My organization has noted the latest news that ITD will take additional time to review the speed studies before deciding on a speed limit increase. Certainly such a decision merits careful consideration. We have every confidence that if the speed studies on the referenced interstates were conducted such that the results are clear, then raising the speed limits to at least the nearest 5 mph over the 85th percentile speed will result in highway safety that is unaffected or even improved. The crash involvement vs. deviation from average speed study done by David Solomon in the 1960s (and reaffirmed by the research of Cirillo and of Stuster and Coffman in intervening years) is unequivocal in its determination that traveling at or a few mph above the average speed of traffic minimizes the risk of vehicular accidents. As noted previously, the states that raised their interstate highway speed limits in recent times to 80 and even 85 mph with support from traffic speed studies have seen the beneficial effects of such a change.

The National Motorists Association stands ready to offer public support for and assistance to the ITD for a speed limit increase justified by engineering analysis.

Gary Biller

June 30, 2014

Mr. Biller,

Thank you for expressing the support of your organization for the raising of speed limits on the interstate highways. ITD is confident with the findings of the engineering and speed studies and we believe those conclusions will be carried with the concurrence of the Idaho Transportation Board at its next scheduled meeting in July. If the speed limit changes are approved, ITD staff will carry through with the increase as directed.

I apologize for not replying to your email last week. At your request, ITD is preparing the engineering documents to be posted on a web site and we will make it publically available when it is prepared. I am also forwarding your comments to the Board for consideration.

Thank you again for the support of the NMA. If you have any other questions or comments, please feel free to contact me again,

Nathan Jerke
ITD, District 4

The NMA comments were submitted to the Idaho Transportation Board for review along with those from AAA Idaho and others such as the Idaho Trucking Association. The Board’s unanimous conclusion? Proceed with the 80 mph limits for rural interstates in the southern portion of the state as justified by ITD’s studies.

This is a victory for motorists in Idaho. Logic and proven traffic engineering principles don’t always trump mega-financial interests. In this case they did.

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