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Friday, March 16, 2012

House puts the brakes on 70 miles per hour speed limit on highways

CONCORD – House members on Thursday put the brakes on allowing motorists to legally drive 70 mph on some rural state highways, though both sides agreed that many motorists ignore such posted restrictions.

The bill, HB 1695, would have increased the posted speed limits on state highways by 5 mph, making the speed limit 70 mph on interstate highways in rural areas.

Citing concerns about driver safety, the House voted 178-126 to kill the bill.

Along the central and eastern New Hampshire turnpike with four-lane divided highways, the speed limit would have been increased to 65 mph. All other sections of highway would have increased to 60 mph, with the minimum speed going up to 50 from 45 mph.

Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, said raising the limit would create a hazard, particularly in more congested roads along the state’s southern tier.

“That is not going to be healthy,” Packard said. “It is going to become a safety factor.”

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, argued that 30 states already let their motorists drive up to 70 mph.

“I believe in consent of the governed – that is what our Founding Fathers had in mind,” Vaillancourt said. “We shouldn’t be passing laws unless we mean for them to be enforced because they made sense.”

House Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, opposed the bill but acknowledged that police in his district can’t get convictions in court unless speeders go 15 mph above the limit.

“Raising a speed limit below the average speed doesn’t solve the issue of everyone being out of compliance,” Jasper said.

Opponents noted that there is no state in the Northeast with a speed limit higher than 70 mph.

Last year, Maine lawmakers raised to 75 the speed limit for the 110-mile most northern section of the turnpike that ends at the Canadian border.

The House Transportation Committee had urged against passing HB 1695 by a 15-1 count.

Former law enforcement officers on opposing sides agreed that speed limits are not uniformly honored.

Rep. John Tholl, R-Whitefield, is a retired state police officer and part-time police chief. He worried that raising the limit would cause too many motorists to go 85 mph on interstates in rural areas.

“I believe safety and prudence would dictate we leave the law exactly where it is,” Tholl said.

Former Epsom Police Officer Tony Soltani said keeping a low speed limit intact only allows local and state police to selectively choose which motorists they are going to pull over.

“Why do we have a law on the books that we don’t enforce?” Soltani asked rhetorically.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.