News Story

Legislator: Speed Traps 'A Tax on the Poor'

Michigan State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, wants to end what he calls "a tax on the poor," by eliminating speed limits that are not set scientifically.  

Sen. Jones and Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, are working on a package of bills that would eliminate loopholes in existing legislation that require state government entities to set speed limits based on traffic studies. 

"Never let politicians set speed limits," Sen. Jones said, adding that he said he has heard numerous complaints since the first law defining speed limit setting in Michigan, PA 85 went into effect in 2006. The Michigan Municipal League and the insurance industry lobbied heavily for the act, which for example, allows continuation of what Jones says have been speed traps. Municipalities gain by collecting speed ticket fines and the insurance industry benefits by charging higher premiums, he said.

Sen. Jones, who previously was sheriff in Eaton County, said he became particularly angry about the issue when he saw 25 mile per hour speed limits posted in East Lansing and Lansing. 

"The mayors wouldn't do anything about them (speed limits) and we were told it was because of political pressure," he said.

The traffic industry standard is to set speed limits at the speed at which 85 percent of drivers travel in clear conditions. Studies have shown that when speed limits are set too low, motorists drive a variety of speeds increasing the possibility of crashes. 

Improperly set speed limits also costs motorists. Fines can range between $100 and $150. Several tickets within a short time frame could lead to hundreds of dollars in driver responsibility fees and insurance premium increases as much as 40 percent. Sen. Jones said poor drivers can't afford the fees and end up having their licenses suspended.

"It's a vicious cycle. They need their license to go to work to pay the fees," he said.

Sen. Jones said he thinks bills to change how speed limits are decided have a chance of passage because he has the support of the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Transportation. 

"When they see the facts that scientifically set speed limits lead to fewer crashes, they're on board," he said.

The speed limit in some areas could increast to 80 miles per hour.

Not convinced is Michigan's largest auto insurer, AAA Michigan.

"We would not support an increase in speed limits," said Nancy Cain, spokeswoman for AAA Michigan.

The company also is not on board for setting speed limits scientifically.

"We'd have to take a look at that," she said.


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Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.