Oregon War on Cars Watch: Proposed rule changes would let ODOT set safer speeds

In a welcome bit of progress at the Oregon Department of Transportation, the agency is poised to update their approach to setting speed limits.

ODOT is currently seeking public feedback on a proposed rule change that would clarify how they decide to set speeds on roads throughout the state.

According to just-published proposed revisions (PDF) to two Oregon Administrative Rules (OARs), ODOT will base speed designations on land-use context and will consider a new metric of 50th percentile speeds. The new rules would give ODOT’s Speed Zone Review Panel much more leeway to designate lower speeds.

Like many state DOTs, ODOT has typically relied on the “85th percentile” rule to designate speeds. That rule defines the optimum speed as that which 85% of drivers will drive at or below in “free flow” conditions. That approach has come under fire for prioritizing drivers (who will always push the upper limits of safety) at the expense of safety of themselves and everyone else on the road.