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In Texas, Highway Opens with Highest Speed Limit in U.S.

Highway 130 in central Texas opened today to much national fanfare as traffic safety officials decried the roadway’s 85 mph speed limit, the highest in the U.S.

Local officials, however, are more even-keeled in their reactions.

“Right now, there’s not an awful lot of traffic on it,” Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas (ICT), said about the 41-mile toll road extension meant to relieve traffic congestion around Austin.

But headlines have made much hay of Highway 130 as it opens, with officials highlighting a number of safety concerns. Adrian Lund, president for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), addressed the highway in the latest IIHS newsletter, saying that the state was “choosing speed over safety.”

“Decades of research show that when speed limits are raised, drivers go faster and more people die in crashes,” Lund stated in a newsletter editorial.

Accompanying Lund’s editorial was a study from the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) showing that motorists using limited-access highways have increasingly driven above the speed limit at higher rates.

Of motorists using limited-access highways in 2007, 14 percent drove above the speed limit by 10 mph or more, a rate that rose to 20 percent in 2009. And 48 percent of motorists sped above the limit by some amount in 2007, increasing to 72 percent in 2009.

“Many Texas drivers are no doubt already used to driving 85 mph on roads with 75 or 80 mph limits,” Lund said. “They’ll read the 85 mph signs as license to go 90 or more.”

However, Hanna, who said he has traveled “fairly frequently” on the roadway before its extension opened, said that authorities have been especially wary of speeders there and added that he expects that awareness to increase.

“I’ve always seen a trooper there, and they’re going to be looking for more speeders especially that the extension’s opened,” Hanna said in an interview with Online Auto Insurance News. “Anyone going past 85 mph is really asking for a speeding citation.”

Quote Comparison Shows Impact of Speeding Tickets

Online Auto Insurance ran an analysis of the impact of speeding tickets on coverage rates using a rate comparison tool from the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI).

The analysis, which included quotes from 23 auto insurance carriers in Texas, used a sample profile of a single male driver under 25 years old who has good credit and 50/100/50 liability limits and lives in Austin.

That driver faced an average quote increase of $198.65, or almost 11.5 percent, when there was a speeding ticket on record compared with when his record was clean. The highest quote hike resulting from the speeding ticket was $602, while the lowest was $11.

Jerry Hagins, TDI spokesman, said that a speeding ticket’s exact impact on coverage varies from insurer to insurer.

“Some drivers, depending on who they have their insurance with, may be subject to a surcharge for a speeding ticket while others may not be at all,” he said. “They should talk to their agent to know for sure.”

Insurance Implications of New Highway Not Yet Clear

As an industry rule of thumb, insurers facing costlier claims en masse should increase rates to financially satisfy rising risks. But only time will tell if Highway 130 has that effect on coverage rates, according to Hanna.

“There’s been no tracking of it, and if there were, it would take more time past its opening today,” he said.

Hanna urged a “wait-and-see” attitude for those wondering if insurance rates could increase because of the highway.

“It’s not like homeowners insurance, where weather comes through, everyone has a claim, and those claims may push rates up for the area,” he said. “In this case it would be individuals getting a citation one at a time, so we’ll have to take a wait-and-see attitude to see if there are any impacts on rates.”

The foremost concerns currently, according to Hanna, are still about safety.

“There are fears about going 85 mph and have a blowout,” he said. “But it is a brand new road and it’s in very good shape. There’s plenty of width and shoulder and visibility.”

Other local officials are also promoting safety awareness. The Texas Department of Transportation has been posting new signage across all highways informing motorists that the left lane should solely be used for passing other vehicles.

“The steps are basic ones, but we must still be vigilant in reminding drivers of how serious it is every time they get behind the wheel of a vehicle,” Bill Meadows, the state’s transportation commissioner, said in a statement.

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