Last week the Washington state Secretary of Transportation said he did not want to comply with a new law raising the speed limit to 75.
There was a press release with quotable quotes and fabricated figures, but in the end it was just a matter of opinion.
Or should I say, from the beginning it was a matter of opinion.
If WSDOT followed the normal process for setting speed limits I-90 was obviously eligible for 75.
State officials did not want to post 75 so they replaced the normal process with one designed to give the result they wanted.
Part of the process was an opinion poll. Speed limit setting is supposed to be the ultimate public opinion poll, based on looking at how fast drivers go. The DOT ignored tens of thousands of drivers who wanted a higher limit in favor of a few people who said they were scared. They listened to police officers who were afraid of not being able to ticket anybody on a whim. They counted the cost of undeserved tickets at zero. They ignored the literature that said post speed limits at the 85th percentile and instead used… they didn’t say what, but my guess is they asked the ticket industry.
Here’s how you can tell this study is a fraud: Washington is not lowering the speed limit.
The report basically says driving faster is more dangerous. If you believe that, then 70 is too fast just like 75 is too fast. And 65 is too fast. So why isn’t the speed limit dropping to 60 or even 50?
The report is meant to support the status quo, not to find a safe speed. Cities in my area use one rule for stop signs they want and another rule for stop signs they don’t want, and DOTs around the country use one rule for speed limits nobody will notice and another for speed limits that will make headlines.
It could be the governor ordered the DOT to block the speed limit increase in retaliation for the legislature ousting the previous Secretary of Transportation in retaliation for the DOT botching the Alaskan Way project. But if the acting Secretary didn’t agree he could have quit like Elliot Richardson. So he owns it (along with the chief of the State Patrol) even it it wasn’t his idea.
This is not the first time that a DOT has refused to carry out a legislative mandate. It’s not even the first time in the last week. Last decade Oregon DOT refused to post 70. Last year Nevada DOT refused to post 80. Last week Oklahoma DOT said the speed limit wouldn’t be going up on state highways.
These states’ legislatures should pass a law that any government official who sets or enforces a speed limit in violation of the 85th percentile rule is personally liable for the consequences.
Retroactive to May 11, 2016.
The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.