MICHIGAN, the home of the US car industry, will increase speed limits on 2400km of roads next month because drivers already travel faster than the current limits.
The Detroit Free Press reported overnight that almost 1000km of the state’s rural roads would bump the speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph – the Aussie equivalent of ditching 110km/h in favour of 120km/h – while a further 1400km would have its speed limits raised from the equivalent of 90km/h to 105km/h.
The first of the speed sign changes will start to roll out in mid May.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the changes were introduced after the state's government asked police and the Michigan transportation department to consider raising speed limits.
The department said it had been asked to increase speed limits on some state highways and freeways "based on 85th-percentile speeds (the speed at or below which 85 percent of traffic is moving) and the results of engineering and safety studies".
"The corridors identified by MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) and MSP (Michigan State Police) were selected not only because studies indicated most drivers were already driving at those increased speeds, but also because their design and safety features were best suited to these speed limits," state transportation director Kirk Steudle said.
"We reviewed design speeds, crash patterns, number of access points, traffic volumes and continuity of these corridors, and chose them to minimise necessary improvements for higher speed limits."
The move is in stark contrast to Australia, where a crackdown on speed has resulted in the end of a five-year trial of open speed limits along a 300km section of the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory. The trial was abruptly ended after a new chief minister who lobbied against the trial while in opposition was elected last year to head up the territory government. The move angered carmakers who could use the territory's roads for high-speed testing and big-budget advertising campaigns during the Northern Hemisphere winter.
Speed remains a contentious issue in Australia, with a lack of road maintenance contributing to an increasing roll-out of lower speed limits as road surfaces deteriorate.
Senator David Leyonhjelm has proposed a similar review of speed limits in Australia, suggesting we should also set limits that reflected the 85th percentile – the pace at which most motorists naturally drive at.
"The people who currently set them [speed limits] are anonymous, unaccountable bureaucrats. Perhaps the most powerful people in Australia, they essentially decide how many people should die on our roads," he told a Senate inquiry into road safety.
"Governments and ministers come and go, but they and their speed limits are always there. This is massive bureaucratic overreach."
In Victoria, last year Liberal MP for Benambra, Bill Tilley called for an inquiry into raising speed limits on certain highways in Victoria, and in particular a shift from 110km/h to 130km/h on the Hume Highway, and 100km/h to 110km/h on the Princes Highway between Geelong and Melbourne.
Wheels has been a long-time supporter of raising speed limits in Australia. In 2013, we drove from Melbourne to Sydney at 130km/h – 20km/h above the posted speed limit – in a demonstration that it could be done safely and comfortably.
Mercedes-Benz, which is using Australia's roads network as a test bed for its autonomous car technology, has flagged its Hume Highway-friendly self-driving systems will work best at speeds of up to 130km/h.