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Editorial: Governor on right side of dangerous speed limit bill

Published: May 15, 2014

It’s good to see Gov. Rick Scott listen to the pleas of state troopers and county sheriffs in deciding to veto a dangerous bill that would have allowed the state to increase highway speed limits.

Too often lately, lawmakers have pushed unnecessary laws that supposedly advance personal freedoms but achieve little other than making law enforcement more difficult. Loosely worded stand-your-ground laws come to mind. There also have been attempts to allow individuals to openly carry firearms virtually anywhere without concern for the likely dangers to the public and especially law enforcement officers.

The speed limit bill similarly ignored threats to law enforcement and the public, especially older drivers.

The legislation passed easily in the Senate but faced some resistance in the House before being passed by that chamber and sent to Scott for his signature. Scott, fortunately, chose to follow the veto calls by law enforcement. In particular, a solitary plea made during a funeral for a fallen trooper seemed to clarify the debate.

The Legislature’s passing of the bill “wasn’t a bright idea,” Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Tod G. Cloud told Scott after mourners had gathered for the funeral of FHP Master Trooper Chelsea Richard, who was struck by a vehicle while investigating an accident along Interstate 75 near Ocala.

Cloud said he dreads working crashes along the highways because many “people do not drive with common sense.” Rather than raise the speed limits by 5 mph, as the bill would have allowed, the state should consider dropping the limits to 55 mph when the highways are wet, Cloud told Scott.

Under the bill lawmakers passed, the limits could have been raised to 75 mph on interstates, 70 mph on divided highways and 65 mph on rural highways. The higher limits would have been restricted to areas where traffic engineers determined the safer speeds were appropriate.

But there was no clamor among motorists to raise the limits, and higher speeds result in more serious crashes and burn more fuel. Irresponsible motorists routinely exceed the limit by more than 10 mph. Raising the limits would have been a green light to travel at even greater speeds. This is particularly threatening to elderly motorists who drive within the limits to compensate for delayed reaction times, and to tourists unfamiliar with the terrain.

Vetoing the bill “will undoubtedly prevent injuries and save lives,” the AAA Auto Club South’s Kevin Bakewell said.

Sadly, that’s not how two of the bill’s sponsors see it.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, said he will bring the measure back next year. And Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Democrat from Lake Worth, said the troopers who risk their lives working along the highways are wrong. “Unfortunately, the issue became more about emotion than facts,” he said.

Trooper Richard and two others lost their lives when a motorist struck them after an accident on the interstate. Whether excessive speed had anything to with the accident remains under investigation.

But the devastating loss of life, and the somber setting of her funeral, prompted Trooper Cloud to ask the governor to listen to the experts who see the consequences of irresponsible drivers.

Increasing the speed limits would have served no useful purpose. Scott was right to listen to law enforcement. It’s too bad Brandes and Clemens won’t.