In what is becoming a battle of statistics, safe driving advocates are pushing back against a new proposal to raise Florida's speed limits.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, announced Tuesday they're working on a bipartisan bill to allow the maximum highway speed limit to rise to 75 mph.
Florida last increased the state speed limit to 70 mph in 1996.
The increase on a given stretch of highway would happen only if traffic engineers "determine that the roadway was safe enough for such a speed," according to a statement.
Not so fast, said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is funded by the insurance industry.
"There's no question that raising speed limits is politically popular, but there is always a safety trade off," he said. "Higher speeds make a crash more likely because it takes longer to stop or slow down. And the crashes that happen are more likely to be deadly."
Brandes, however, pointed to data from the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that shows Florida's driving fatalities have gone down from 2,753 in 1996, when the speed limit was last raised, to 2,398 in 2011. That's even as population, and thus the number of drivers, has gone up.
The state's fatality rate, based on a formula of deaths per miles traveled, decreased over the same time from 2.12 to 1.25, statistics show.
The proposed law will "allow traffic engineers to make the decision to raise the speed limit on a roadway if they believe it is safe and advisable to do so," Brandes added.
But another concern, raised by AAA spokeswoman Karen Morgan, is that no matter the speed limit, many highway drivers regularly drive a little faster than the posted number.
She also called attention to other data that seemingly contradicts Brandes' and Clemens' position.
"It's kind of perplexing," Morgan said about their proposal. "That's just not what the research shows."
(Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.)
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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