Trucking People
Fighting on the front lines
OOIDA member carries on a personal war against a persistent foe — split speed limits

No one behind the wheel of a big rig likes split speed limits. But one OOIDA member has done more than gripe — he has dedicated a good part of his life to helping end them.

Steve Barnes of Cascade Locks, OR, has been in the trucking business for 25 years, most of that as an owner-operator. In recent years, he started to notice differences in how states handled speed limits.

States with lower limits seemed to have heavier law enforcement. And in states that raised their limits, the predicted carnage and law-enforcement problems didn’t seem to appear.

Barnes started to research the topic. He found all kinds of information about how traffic engineers set speed limits. And he discovered that under those standards, split speeds made no sense.

Speed limits, Barnes found, are literally based on majority rule. Engineers use a standard called the 85th percentile. He explains the concept on his Web site: “The 85th percentile speed is the speed at or below which 85 percent of the motorists drive on a given road ... This speed indicates the speed that most motorists on that road consider safe and reasonable under ideal conditions.”

“Under federal regulations, posted speeds are not supposed to slow traffic down,” Barnes told Land Line. “They are supposed to be in response to the driving habits of a majority of drivers on any given roadway.

“If people perceive that the posted speed is unreasonable,” he said, “people tend to ignore them.”

Barnes called his legislators to support uniform speeds, but he didn’t stop there. He set up a Web site, www.fightthe55.com, designed to “educate drivers so that they can discuss the issue with facts.”

The Oregon trucker also had 1,000 bumper stickers printed to promote the idea, and he also spent plenty of time at truck stops and on the CB educating his fellow drivers.

It may seem at times like he’s tilting at windmills, but Barnes says split speed foes have made progress. Ten states have split speed limits: California, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Washington, Indiana, Idaho, Arkansas, Montana and Barnes’ home state of Oregon. Battles for change are under way in Oregon, Illinois and Ohio.

If truckers want split speeds to end, they need to call their state lawmakers, he said, and they need to be prepared.

“They need to be able to talk the facts; they need to be able to talk an argument that is based on safety,” he said.

“Since there are actual standards, and the research has been done to establish those standards, and those standards are shown to be based on safety, then if the real interest of these states is having safety, then we have to go by what is proven to be safer,” he said. “My purpose is not to encourage people to speed; my purpose is for people to understand what the basic speed rule is and for everyone to drive in a way that is reasonable and prudent.”

Truckers should keep track of the OOIDA and Land Line Web sites, he said, especially the Legislative Watch and Call to Action sections.

“Truckers need to pick up the phone and lend their voice in support,” he said. “Everyone who does make a call is having a big impact.”

—by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.