I did an awful lot of driving this past weekend. Up to Vermont on Friday and all the way back from Vermont on Saturday. Then another two hour round trip to see my mom for Mother’s Day.

If there’s one thing I noticed it’s that speed doesn’t seem like the biggest problem in traffic accidents. It’s inconsistency. In a 65 zone you have people driving anywhere from the upper 50s to the mid 90s. Too much zigzagging with lane changing is the other problem but I believe that first problem creates the second.

If you had everyone driving at speeds within a tighter range some uniformity would prevail, and it follows you would have less lane changing. The faster are trying to get around the slower. And God help the slower if they’re doing that in the left passing lane.

Simple country road speed limit sign

I wish we could establish a minimum speed limit so that more officers would be encouraged to ticket those impeding the traffic flow by going too slow. This next wish might sound crazy considering how road fatalities have gone up not down in recent years. But I’m not the only one to say it.

We need to raise speed limits to a speed where most drivers are actually comfortable driving.

New Jersey State Senator Declan O’Scanlon agrees and has been on a mission to do just that.

State Sen. Declan O'Scanlon
State Sen. Declan O'Scanlon (Michael Symons, Townsquare Media NJ)

Behold S-1652, a senate bill he’s sponsoring for yet another legislative session that would be a seismic shift in how we set speed limits in this state. And it needs to pass.

He calls it the Speed Limit Sanity Act.

It calls for traffic engineering surveys to be done on limited access highways to determine the speeds people are driving despite the posted speed limit. Then change set new speed limits going by the 85th percentile rule.

If you never heard of the 85th percentile rule concerning traffic speed it basically is that most drivers are reasonable and do not want to get in an accident. Yet they do want to get to their destination as quickly as possible. Therefore, a speed at which 85 percent of people would drive on an unregulated road is figured to be the highest safe speed for that road.


O’Scanlon’s bill states,

The posted speed limit for any segment of an eligible limited access highway is to be set at the 85th percentile speed of the highway, as determined by the traffic engineering survey, rounded to the next highest five miles per hour.

So if by the 85th percentile we find traffic on a certain stretch to move at 73 miles per hour it would be legally set at 75.

If you think the 85th percentile is already being used to set New Jersey’s speed limits think again. It’s also a combination of existing state law and a lot of politics and NIMBY concerns (Not In My Back Yard).

It may strike you as counterintuitive to suggest raising speed limits in some areas could make for safer roads. But I suggest at minimum we need to hear O’Scanlon out and have a dialogue within the state about this idea.

Speed limit

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