Idaho considers letting big trucks go 75 on freeways

BOISE - Big trucks could drive 75 on Idaho’s freeways, just like cars, under legislation introduced in the state Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday at the behest of its chairman, Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene; Idaho’s current truck speed limit on freeways is 65 mph.

“The intent of this legislation, should it move forward, is to enhance safety by having all vehicles on the highway drive the same speed limit, thus eliminating a lot of lane changes that currently are necessary because of the differentiation in speed limits,” Hammond told the committee. His bill would declare that the speed limit for big trucks would be the same as that for “other motor vehicles,” not only on freeways but also in town and on state highways.

In Washington, the top freeway speed for trucks is 60 mph, and for cars, 70 mph. Montana’s current limits match Idaho’s.

Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, who owns a trucking company, said there were unsuccessful proposals in Idaho in the past to move all vehicles to a 70 mph speed limit on the state’s freeways, and to move them all to 75. “Probably the thing you need to consider is that there are a growing number of those trucks that will not do 75,” Corder warned. “They’re much more sophisticated than cars; they’re limited by their computers and they’re controlled so they can’t exceed that speed because of our neighboring states that don’t allow it.”

Trucking companies, he said, “have done extensive studies,” and determined that their best fuel consumption is achieved around 62 to 63 mph, “and that produces the least wear on tires.”

AAA of Idaho hasn’t taken a position on Hammond’s bill yet, but five years ago when similar legislation was proposed, the motorists’ group opposed it, citing “massive public opposition.”

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, offered a similar bill Tuesday with an emergency clause. “This is a public safety issue,” he said, “and instead of waiting until July 1st to implement this, it would seem logical because it’s public safety that we’d want to implement it as quickly as we could.”

However, the panel opted to introduce Hammond’s version instead; it’ll return later for a full committee hearing. Senators on the committee said they hope to hear from experts, including Idaho Transportation Department officials and the Idaho State Police, about the safety issues involved, and about how big trucks have fared under the current 65 mph speed limit as far as tickets and accidents.

Corder voted with the rest of the committee to introduce the bill, but warned he’ll have questions at the hearing.

“You are correct, certainly, in that the interactions between slow and more rapidly moving vehicles has always been the issue,” he said, “not even the speed, it’s just been the interactions.” But by setting a truck speed limit that most trucks can’t or won’t drive, he said, “You won’t be able to do what you want to do.”

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