Left Lane Restrictions and Increased Speed Limits Fail to Pass in Ohio

There was an article in March with an arresting title: “Lane Hogs Beware.” The story was about proposed legislation that would prohibit being in the left lane except to pass, exit or allow other vehicles to move to a right-hand lane. The proposal, added to the state’s transportation budget, never became law because the language was removed from the bill before the vote.

Why the Bill Failed

The House and Senate conference committee also removed a proposal to raise the speed limit be raised to 75 MPH. The speed limit provision was removed after the lawmakers were told that a higher speed limit could compromise safety and leave the state open to lawsuits. Because highways in Ohio were originally designed and constructed to handle traffic at 70 MPH, lawmakers were concerned that the state could be held liable for allowing traffic to move faster than originally intended.

The left-lane driving restriction was deleted after state law enforcement reported that the law would be unenforceable. However, lawmakers left language in the budget bill requiring the Ohio Department of Transportation to install signs that say “Keep Right Except to Pass.”

History of Efforts to Change the Law

This was not the first time lawmakers have tried to raise the speed limit and prohibit most left lane traffic on highways with three lanes going in the same direction. They successfully raised the speed limit to 70 MPH on rural highways in 2013. However, some trucking companies opposed raising the speed limit further, saying that governors in many trucks kept speeds below 70 MPH to save gas and improve safety. Raising the speed limit even further would make trucks with governors even slower than other traffic, increasing the risk of crashes.

The same 2013 bill that increased the speed limit to 70 on rural highways also contained left lane restrictions. However, the State Highway Patrol expressed concerns about enforcement similar to those raised this year.

Speed Limits Beyond Ohio

Today, 34 states have speed limits of 70 MPH or higher on some part of their highway systems. A number of states have different speed limits for cars and trucks. In Indiana, for example, the speed limit for cars on rural interstates is 70, while the speed limit for trucks on the same road is 65. Kentucky, on the other hand, has a speed limit of 65 MPH for all vehicles on all highways, although reducing the speed limit under a variety of circumstances is permitted. Speed limits on certain roads can be raised to 70 MPH pending engineering and traffic reviews. Some portions of Texas highways permit speed limits of 85 MPH for both trucks and cars. Montana will adopt an 80 MPH limit for cars in October 2015.

Lower Limits Generally in Densely Populated States

Generally, more urban parts of the United States have lower speed limits. New York and Massachusetts both have a 65 MPH speed limit for cars and trucks. In the case of New York, the 65 MPH limit applies only to rural interstates. Vehicles on urban interstates are limited to 65 MPH. States with higher speed limits tend to be more rural in character.

Does a Higher Speed Limit Reduce Accidents?

Advocates of higher speed limits often justify their positions by saying that higher speed limits are actually safer and reduce auto and other vehicle accidents. They may be correct, as the increase in Ohio to 70 MPH coincided with a possible reduction in the number of accidents. However, proponents of keeping the 70 MPH limit argued that it was too soon to tell whether the reduction in accidents was the result of the higher speed limit or some other factors.