CARSON CITY — While legislators spoke of their fondness for putting the pedal to the metal, they also noted Wednesday that legislation increasing the speed limit to as much as 85 mph on selected roads in Nevada could have dire consequences for teenage drivers.
“For someone like me who likes speed, this looks really, really good,” said Sen. Patricia Spearman, D-North Las Vegas. “But some young drivers think their skills are much better than they really are.”
While Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, said he “hasn’t seen any evidence” that higher speed limits in Texas and Utah have led to more teenage fatalities, the question really was not answered by evidence from studies.
But Gustavson also said that most accidents occur within seven miles of motorists’ homes, not on the higher speed interstates where teens do not drive frequently.
Still, Senate Transportation Chairman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, did not take a vote on Gustavson’s Senate Bill 191 after a sparsely attended first hearing.
He also said he is concerned about the effects of a higher Nevada state speed limit on younger drivers.
At this point he doubts most of the committee would pass the bill.
“I think the committee is open-minded right now,” Manendo said. “Novice drivers, I have concerns. There are no many distractions, but how many 18-years-olds are crossing the state?”
Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, supports the bill, though he is the father to a 16-year-old who has just started driving.
“We are assuming that teens are not out speeding now,” said Atkinson. “Teens are notoriously fast drivers. I don’t think teens have a lot of accidents on freeways.”
The bill would allow the Nevada Department of Transportation to raise the maximum speed limit in Nevada to as much as 85 mph on some roads, presumably on Interstate 15 from Craig Road to Mesquite and on Interstate 80 in Northern Nevada between Fernley and the Utah state line.
The bill would not limit the higher speed limit to interstates. Any road that is not deemed by the Transportation Department to be a safety problem if the speed limit is raised would be considered for change.
During the hearing, witnesses mentioned increasing the speed limit on U.S. Highway 95 from Las Vegas to Mercury.
Tom Greco, assistant director of planning for the Transportation Department, said his agency took a neutral position on SB191 but thanked Gustavson and the committee for not mandating speed limit increases.
“Safety is No. 1 within our agency,” added Greco, who noted that interstates in Nevada are “very safe highways.”
Gustavson testified that most accidents occur at 45 mph speeds.
He said that after Utah increased its speed limits on some parts of freeways to 80 mph, the average speed increased only by 2 mph, but overall accidents fell by 11 percent.
“Higher speeds make for a safer road for everyone,” said Gustavson, who contended that the “speed kills” slogan is wrong.
Among the opponents were the Nevada Trucking Association and the Automobile Association of America. The Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association supported the bill.
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