Seasonal speed limits

Posted: Sunday, August 03, 2003

Speed limits are typically established by surveying a particular portion of a roadway and determining the speed at which 85 percent of drivers travel on that roadway. Factors such as curves and pedestrian traffic can be used to decrease the 85th percentile speed. Otherwise, the speed limit should be set as near as practicable to the 85th percentile speed. In any case, a speed limit should reflect the behavior of the majority, otherwise it's unrealistic and impossible to enforce.

Specific to Alaska, AS 19.10.072(a)(1)-(5) details priorities to take into consideration when setting a speed limit. Items (4) and (5) apply to Egan Drive: (4) "that speed at which safe and prudent drivers could pass through the speed zone; and, (5) the effectiveness of local enforcement of the speed zone." Subsection (b) of this statute allows municipalities to recommend speed limits.

When a speed limit is set too low, the roadway can become more unsafe. People will not voluntarily drive at unrealistically low speeds, because the speed does not reflect the behavior of the majority. This leads to conditions on a roadway where you encounter large variances in speed between those traveling at the posted speed limit and the majority of drivers traveling over the speed limit. This increases the potential for accidents by forcing more movement between lanes than is necessary. An unrealistically low speed limit also causes the majority of drivers on the road to be unlawful and increases animosity toward law enforcement when moving violations are issued for simply traveling with the flow of traffic.

During the summer, a very clear majority of drivers travel on Egan Drive at 65 mph, which can be reasonably implied to be the speed at which safe and prudent drivers can drive on this roadway. Those going less than 65 mph, like those drivers going at or below the speed limit, create a hazard for the majority and decrease the efficiency of the roadway. In addition, the 55 mph speed limit is clearly not enforceable during the summer. What kind of image are we sending to tourists on a bus to the glacier when not a single driver that passes their bus is going the speed limit? Or when the bus itself is traveling faster than the posted limit?

Taking these facts into consideration along with state law, I propose a seasonal speed limit of 65 mph during the summer, decreasing to 55 mph during the winter, when road conditions actually warrant that speed. This simple act would reflect the behavior of the majority, put safe and prudent drivers back within the confines of the law, and provide police with a more effective way to spot and cite those violators who are truly creating a hazard.

Jason Soza


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