Speed limit increases make for dangerous driving

In the past several months, we have seen speed limits on streets and roads increase in both the city of Greenfield and in Hancock County.

To begin with, I have concerns about increasing speeds from an energy and environmental perspective. Increasing speeds encourage drivers to accelerate more quickly, especially when some of these sections of road are relatively short. This reduces engine efficiency and increases the amount of pollutants discharged into the environment. While this does not make much difference for one car over one stretch of road, it does cause concern when we are talking thousands of cars on a daily basis.

I also have concerns for driver safety. Most of the roads that have seen increased speeds have not seen upgrades in road width. At 45 mph, drivers passing one another in the opposite direction must be very careful to keep their vehicles on their own side of the road. At 50 to 55 mph, this becomes even more difficult on typical rural roads.

At least one road I know of — County Road 400W between county roads 300N and 500N — continues to be subject to frequent potholes and has only been patched — not repaved. Even if I wanted to travel the newly posted 55 mph, I would not want to subject my van to the abuse that occurs.

This road has, over time, been pockmarked by numerous potholes. This is a road I travel frequently when going to the Lawrence area. Posting this road for a 55 mph speed limit seems a dangerous proposition. It has not been widened, and I am certain the patches will fail over the winter and make it more likely a driver will lose control when hitting a pothole.

Another road — this one in the city of Greenfield — is even more surprising for the extreme increase in the speed limit. McKenzie Road, from Franklin Street to Meridian Road, saw a jump of 20 mph. This road was formerly posted at 30 mph, which was too slow; it is now posted at 50 mph.

I think many people find this increase ridiculous. I will not travel over 40 because of the numerous residences on the north side of this road. Interestingly, I have had only a few drivers tailgating me.

McKenzie Road, as it crosses Meridian Road, becomes County Road 100N. At that point, the speed limit drops to 45 miles per hour. It does not increase to 50 until, I believe, between County Road 400W and Mount Comfort Road. So, why the hurry to 50 mph on this short stretch of roadway?

I’m sure there are many other examples of increased speed limits. For some roads, these increases might make sense. Overall, though, I find it difficult to imagine what is gained. Over the short distances and the often limited changes in speed limits, I cannot imagine many will find their drive time reduced significantly.

So why was there this seemingly coordinated decision to increase speed limits? Who spurred this movement? In my cynical mind, I imagine a committee of body and mechanic shop owners approaching key city and county officials to push for the increased speeds. Once the tow truck operators heard of this, they also joined in. We know that is ridiculous.

So who was it? And why did they push for this change? When the Daily Reporter covered this phenomenon, it was reported that on some of these roads, drivers were already, routinely, driving over the posted speed limit.

So the message is, if I don’t agree with a law, I routinely break the law in the hopes that government officials will change the law? It sounds a bit like civil disobedience. But, with civil disobedience, a person needs to expect to pay the price for breaking the law, such as a ticket or even jail time.

I wonder how many of those routinely breaking the speed limit would see it that way as the officer hands the ticket in through their vehicle window?

Somehow, I imagine many would be citing all the other drivers who were speeding as fast or faster as a defense for their actions. Doesn’t this sound like the ever popular everyone-was-doing-it defense used so often in childhood? Sounds like another column to me.

Jim Matthews of Greenfield is a licensed clinical social worker (and, he notes for this column, a reformed speeder). He can be reached at jem75@sbcglobal.net