TRENTON — If you've ever been driving down a New Jersey road, seen a speed limit sign, then looked at your speedometer and found the numbers didn't match up, you've probably thought, "Why don't I get to make up speed limits?"

A bill introduced by state Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth, wouldn't quite give drivers in the Garden State that power, but it would make better use of driving data to determine how speeds should be set on limited-access thoroughfares like interstates, toll roads, U.S. routes, and state highways.

O'Scanlon's legislation would use what is called the "85th percentile formula," to set limits at the speed at which 85 percent of motorists are driving. It would require a continuation of studies that traffic safety engineers have already begun in some cases, and O'Scanlon said it is an accepted methodology within the engineering community.

The studies involve the cooperation and collaboration of the state Department of Transportation, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

The senator said this is not an attempt to raise speed limits, or dictate what the maximums should be. He said in previous instances where speed limits have been changed by 10 to 15 miles per hour, studies have shown that most drivers don't change their habits.

Instead, he said this is intended to streamline roads that have different established speeds within different municipalities, but are the same road with the same conditions and safety concerns throughout.

"People behave reasonably, and arbitrary changes in numbers on signs don't affect people's behavior," O'Scanlon said. "You take speed readings, and the speed at or below which 85 percent of people are driving naturally is where you set your speed limit."

Fines and penalties for non-speed related offenses would remain the same, but the fine for a speeding violation on a road where a study has not been completed would be limited to $20.

O'Scanlon expects traffic stops for speeding would decrease under his measure, and would also take legislators and bureaucrats out of the equation.

"We should set our speed limits based on sound engineering criteria, and give tickets out to people that are truly being hazardous to other people, not 90 percent of drivers who are behaving reasonably," he said. "You will get the greatest amount of compliance, the greatest amount of safety, with the least amount of punishment, and you let police focus on the true outliers."

The New Jersey chapter of the National Motorists Association has been working with O'Scanlon on the bill and supports its introduction, and Tracy Noble, public relations manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, termed the legislation "appropriate and enforceable."

O'Scanlon said limited resources make it impossible to survey every applicable highway in New Jersey at once, but that he expects changes could be seen within six months to a year of the bill becoming law.

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