Earlier this year, Idaho and Wyoming joined Texas and Utah in the 80 mph club -- a small group of states that have increased speed limits on interstate highways to 80 miles per hour.
Now, some Montana lawmakers are hoping to see their western neighbors' bet and raise their own state's speed limits by a full five miles per hour.
The need for speed is being felt in both houses of the Montana legislature. State representative Mike Miller (R-Helmville) and State Representative-elect Art Wittich (R-Bozeman) are in the process of drafting a bill that would increase the speed limit on interstates from 75 to 80 mph. Before the bill is presented next year, it could be tweaked to set an upper limit of 85 mph.
Across the way, State Senators Scott Sales (R-Bozeman) and Jonathan Windy Boy (D-Box Elder) are in the process of drafting a similar bill for debate during next year's legislative session. They've expressed a willingness to reach the 85 mph mark, too.
To support their proposals, Miller and Wittich have pointed to Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming, noting that none of the three has seen a dramatic increase in accidents or fatalities because of their higher speed limits. And Windy Boy has said that traffic in states like Montana can be very sparse, making faster driving less of a risk to other motorists.
Montana Highway Patrol Colonel Tom Butler, however, is less enthusiastic about raising the speed limit. He rightly notes that driving faster makes it more difficult to stop quickly, should the occasion arise.
Those of us who've driven in wide-open spaces understand the urge to step on the gas. And we also know that, generally speaking, multi-car accidents aren't caused by excessive speed, but excessive difference in speed. Although, as we've mentioned before, the risk of fatalities in auto accidents rises in direct relation to the speed at which vehicles are traveling: higher speed, higher risk.
Any Montanans out there want to weigh in?