Speed limit change won’t effect driving habits, safety on gravel roads

A low number on a sign won’t make people drive slower or make gravel roads any safer.
That was the gist of Michigan State Police Lt. Thad Peterson’s message to residents during an informational meeting about the upcoming speed limit changes on local gravel roads held at the Addison Township complex Oct. 24.
‘Since 1973, we’ve been told over and over and over again that slower’s always safer and that a lower number on a sign equates to increased safety,? Peterson explained. ‘It turns out that’s absolutely untrue in a lot of cases.?
A majority of the residents who attended the meeting were vocally opposed to the speed limit changes.
Under a new state law which takes effect Nov. 9, the current posted 25-mile-per-hour speed limit on 20 sections of gravel roads in Oxford Township and 19 sections of gravel roads in Addison Township will increase to an unposted 55 mph.
Two sections of gravel roads in Oxford will increase from 25 to 45 mph.
County-wide, 283 gravel road segments will no longer be posted as 25 mph. Thirty-two will be posted at 45 mph and three at 35 mph. The rest will become unposted, meaning drivers are required to drive at a safe speed given the conditions, with the maximum allowable speed being 55 mph.
The road commission expects to remove all the residential 25 mph signs by the end of November.
‘We’ll be taking them all down,? said David Allyn, traffic safety director for the Road Commission for Oakland County. The signs cannot be left up, as some suggested, because ‘it’s illegal to have them posted? under the new state law.
Peterson argued that many of these roads were ‘not legally posted (at 25 mph) in the first place? due to pressure put on the road commission from township officials and residents years ago.
‘I don’t mean to be calling out the road commission here,? he said. ‘I know the road commission’s responding to what citizens asked them to do.?
Oakland County was believed to be the only county in the state that had posted signs for the 25 mph residential speed zone, which the road commission says were permitted under the previous version of the law.
Most people usually think a lower speed limit will cause drivers to crash less, but that’s ‘usually the opposite of true,? according to Peterson. ‘Speed limits don’t work how I thought they worked when I was a road trooper for 11 years and they don’t work how you think they work.?
Setting a speed limit artificially lower than what it should be on a road causes ‘friction? between the minority of drivers, about 20 percent, who travel close to that posted speed limit and the majority who drive faster.
This friction manifests itself in the form of tailgating, an inability to maintain a proper following distance, lane changes, passing ? ‘a whole bunch of things that are inherently unsafe,? according to Peterson.
‘The safest thing is for a person to be able to drive down a road at the speed that person feels safe? and ‘appropriate,? the lieutenant said.
Most people drive at their own ‘personal speed limit,? which is ‘the number on the sign plus some margin they consider to be okay.?
‘If I came down there and clocked most of the traffic on your roads, including many of you, many times we find out that almost no one is abiding by the speed limit on these roads,? Peterson told the audience. ‘That’s normal.?
Some in the crowd argued that increasing the speed limit to an unposted 55 mph will lead drivers who speed now to go even faster.
But Peterson said that’s not true.
Due to natural features, such as horizontal and vertical curves, ‘many gravel roads out here are self-regulating,? he said. ‘You could put up a speed limit of 200 (mph) and nobody’s going to drive it,? except for the ‘idiot drivers.?
Based on the data that’s been collected, whenever speed limits are adjusted, ‘some of the fastest drivers actually tend to go slower,? according to Peterson. ‘It’s true.?
The segment of drivers who travel at ‘those really extended speeds? ? the ‘I don’t care range? ? ‘tends to get a little bit smaller by percentage when we adjust the speed limit to an appropriate speed.?
While it’s unknown why this happens, Peterson offered a few theories.
It could be these drivers don’t want to stand out.
‘When almost everyone is legal now, you don’t want to be that one outside the bounds,? Peterson explained.
Or it could be that the speed limit is now actually at a rate they can ‘tolerate? or ‘drive without feeling like I want to gouge my eyes out,? the lieutenant said.
Drivers will travel down a gravel road at basically the same speed whether its posted at 25 mph or unposted, according to data presented by Allyn.
A speed study was conducted on gravel roads in 1990. On a local gravel road posted at 25 mph, 85 percent of the drivers travelled at 36.7 mph or less. Unposted, 85 percent travelled at 36.21 mph or less.
On posted 25 mph gravel roads, the speeds ranged between 15 and 60 mph. On unposted, they ranged from 16 to 54 mph.
Twenty-six percent of drivers abided by the 25 mph speed limit on posted gravel roads. On an unposted ones, 26.7 percent obeyed the speed limit.
The amount of drivers doing 40 mph or less on posted roads was 87.7 percent and on unposted 86.1 percent.
‘So basically, it didn’t matter if it was posted or not,? Allyn said.
Speed data regarding posted versus unposted roads was the reason state Rep. Jim Marleau (R-Lake Orion) voted in favor of the new law. ‘It’s compelling that it was that close either way. But at the far end, it brought the top end speed down a little bit without signs,? he said.
‘You cannot change the behavior of people to any dramatic extent with a sign,? Peterson said. ‘If you’re road is posted 25 mph and you feel relatively safe about it or if it’s unposted at 55 (mph) and you feel absolutely unsafe about that road . . . the behavior of drivers is not going to be dramatically different either way.
Peterson said he wants people to fear their road so they won’t be lulled into a ‘false sense of security? and ‘feel too comfortable? with it.
‘I don’t want you feeling safer about the road because of what the sign says,? he explained. ‘If you do, you’ll do things that are less safe and that make the road less safe.?
He doesn’t want parents to allow their children to be around the roadway because they somehow think a 25 mph sign makes it safer.
While most who attended the meeting were opposed to the speed limit changes, not everyone was unhappy with the new law.
‘I’m glad to see you changing this law,? said Addison resident Harold Klein. ‘I’ve been trying to get those 25-mile-per-hour signs down for 20 years.?