Monday, June 19, 2023

Debatable: Should the Northway speed limit go up?

warren county lake george bridges on the Northway

Editor’s note: This commentary is in the May/June 2023 issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine, as part of our “It’s Debatable” feature. In this regular column, we invite organizations and/or individuals to address a particular issue. Click here to subscribe to the magazine, available in both print and digital formats:

The question: Should I-87 go to 70 mph?

AAA: Studies show risks rise with speed

AAA has not taken an official position on the latest efforts in New York to raise the speed limit to 70 on the Adirondack Northway and elsewhere. However, AAA believes that speed limits should not be raised or lowered only to manipulate traffic volume on a particular roadway. States are urged to use engineering and traffic surveys when setting maximum speed limits. AAA has been an advocate for traffic safety for more than 100 years and realizes that drivers often travel more than the posted speed limit, especially since the pandemic.

While only 4% of drivers increased driving due to the pandemic, 51% of them admitted to speeding 10 miles or more over the speed limit on a residential street. AAA urges motorists to drive safely at the posted speed limit and to adjust speed accordingly based on weather conditions.

In 2021, AAA reported how small speed increases can have huge effects on crash outcomes after crash testing at 40, 50 and 56 mph. The slightly higher speeds were enough to increase the driver’s risk of severe injury or death.

Drivers often travel faster than posted speed limits, but when officials raise limits to match travel speeds, people still go faster. Today, 42 states allow 70 mph or higher speeds on some roadways, including eight states that have maximum speeds of 80 mph or more. A 2019 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that rising speed limits have cost nearly 37,000 lives over 25 years. AAA and IIHS urge policymakers to factor in this danger when considering speed limit changes.

The safety organizations conducted crashes, at Calspan Corp.’s testing facility in Western New York, and found that in a crash at 55.9 mph, the vehicle interior was significantly compromised, with the dummy’s sensors registering severe neck injuries, and a likelihood of fractures to the long bones in the lower leg. As the crash speed increased in the tests, researchers found more structural damage and greater forces on the dummy’s entire body.

Speeding isn’t always worth it: For instance, on a 5-mile trip, if you drive at 65 mph on a 45-mph road, you’d shave off only 1.9 minutes from your travel time. Drivers tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding. You’d have to travel 100 miles to save roughly 5 minutes, moving at 80 mph instead of 75 mph.

— Eric Stigberg, managing director of marketing, public and government affairs, AAA Northway

Raise Northway speed limit by 5 mph

In 1995, the U.S. Congress allowed states to decide their maximum speed limits and Gov. George Pataki signed legislation increasing the maximum speed limit from 55 to 65 mph in New York. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, most states now have speed limits above 65 mph, with New York State having one of lowest speed limits.

This year, I introduced a new bill that would authorize an increase of the maximum speed limit to 70 mph for travel on certain state roadways (Assembly bill 05044, same as Senate bill 02209 by Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats). The legislation would allow the commissioner of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Thruway Authority to increase the speed limit on state roadways that meet the criteria for the new maximum limit. (DOT tries to set limits at the pace of a “reasonable and prudent motorist,” considering speed may change based on how straight a highway is or how much visibility there is.)

According to The Institute of Transportation Engineers, posted speed limits for arterials, which are the backbone of many urban road networks and designed to transport people through large areas quickly, need to be set at or close to the 85th percentile speed. Under my bill, some state routes that could have a 70-mph speed limit upon approval by the Thruway Authority or DOT include the Southern Tier Expressway, Interstate 81, Interstate 88, Interstate 481, State Route 481 and Interstate 87—the Adirondack Northway.

Transportation engineers agree that speed limits can and should be revisited and restudied as safety data is compiled and traffic patterns or technology changes.

Over the years, technology has become far more advanced, resulting in vehicles being produced with more safety features and becoming easier to drive. People have also grown more comfortable driving at higher speed limits and New York’s roads are better equipped to handle it. This small change to our state’s speed limit would acknowledge those advancements and adjust to what most drivers comfortably drive at on major roadways across the country.

New York is adhering to a speed limit set two decades ago. Increasing the speed limit on some of our highways would align New York with the many other states that already have speed limits of 70 mph or higher, including neighboring Pennsylvania.

— Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam

Almanack file photo courtesy of NYS DOT

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50 Responses

  1. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    My observation is that more than half the drivers are at 75MPH or more.

    It seems to me that a better question is: Should the speed limit on the Adirondack Northway be enforced with moveable cameras ?

    Personally, I would set the limit at 75 MPH and strictly enforce it.

    • Ryan T says:

      Speed cameras are for raising local revenue, not anything to do with safety. Go live on Long Island if you want speed cameras.

      • Rob says:

        Getting pulled over and getting a ticket is also a form of revenue. If the cops can’t enforce the speeds on roads due to numbers, etc then put up cameras like they are doing in work zones. Isn’t really a big deal. Unless you’re the one getting the ticket. Don’t want to worry about getting a ticket in the mail, don’t speed. Pretty simple actually

        • Eric says:

          The reason people doing 72 aren’t getting tickets isn’t because there aren’t enough police. It’s because they aren’t petty like you. As long as you’re being safe they leave you alone. As they should.

          • Rob says:

            9 your fine 10 your mine. They won’t bother you for 72. Anything over 75 they may. In construction zone where cameras are present you should get ticket for going 56 in a 55.

  2. Hugh Canham says:

    No. I do not feel the speed limit should be raised for the following reasons:
    1. The human reaction time has not improved and is even a severely limiting factor at the current speed limit of 65 mph.
    2. The Northway is not designed for travel at these higher speeds. With constant repair and other factors such as hills, weather, and curves it is not safe to raise the limit.
    3. I do not buy the notion that other states have done it so we should. Each part of the country has different geography and traffic loads.
    4. True cars have more safety features now, but drivers have more distractions such as drinking coffee, reading their cell phone, etc.
    5. Yes, whatever the speed limit it should be strictly enforced.

  3. Eric says:

    If you’ve ever been pulled over going under 75 on the Northway it’s because you were doing something other than speeding. You were weaving in and out or driving aggressive or speeding in a construction zone. Just leave it alone the way it is. It’s fine.

  4. Justin Farrell says:

    On a dry day early in the morning I’ve hit 105mph between exits 23 & 24 where there is no U-turn for a few miles. My personal best haha.

  5. Richard Robbins says:

    No. It’s fine. Unofficially it’s already at 72, making it higher effectively removes all limits.

  6. JohnL says:

    The majority of people go over 70 now with a 65 mph limit. If you travel 65 mph now on the Northway, you will almost NEVER pass anyone and will be passed constantly. If you raise it to 70, enforcement being what it is, they will probably be driving at 80-85. It’s pretty simple really.

  7. Boreas says:

    I can only think of one short stretch of I-87 (between Plattsburgh and Canada) where a faster speed limit could be considered reasonable. Traffic is already too congested and fast south of Glens Falls. Too much wildlife and rubber-necking through the mountains.

    From what I see, 90% of drivers do not know how to drive at current limits. Are instructors still teaching people how to MERGE onto an interstate??

    • JohnL says:

      Great point on the merging onto an interstate. I ALWAYS ask my wife to watch the car that’s in front of me as I’m getting on because they sometimes have a tendency to slow down and she helps me avoid rear ending them as I’m looking in the mirror to see if anyone is coming up from the side. Whew…long sentence. Anyway, that’s how I deal with entering a highway where cars are going 75-80 mph.

      • Rob says:

        If you can’t check your mirrors and know what the vehicle is doing in front of you is doing maybe you should let someone else drive.

        • JohnL says:

          Thanks Rob. I’ll take that under advisement, but until then I’ll continue to drive myself and do what I do because, even at current speeds, many people just don’t know how to properly enter an interstate.

  8. LeRoy Hogan says:

    Gasoline is not a renewable source so why encourage the means to use it up at a faster rate?

  9. Todd Eastman says:

    Cut the maintenance budget…

    … the potholes will enforce speeds…😎

  10. Wingit says:

    It’s already like 80 mph…and that’s with people on their phones. Scary stuff.

  11. Timothy Williammee says:

    Yes, it should be raised,

  12. Paul says:

    Yes, the speed limits on most american roads are ridiculously low. BUT – you gotta put up digital signs where the speed can be lowered for conditions and strictly enforce that. Accidents mainly happen on a road like that due to driving too fast for the conditions. You may want to make snow tires mandatory at times as well.

    • Eric says:

      It’s already illegal to drive the speed limit if the conditions don’t allow. And requiring snow tires would be insane. Someone in an AWD Subaru with just all season radials is still way safer than someone in a Camry with snow tires.

      • Mike says:

        Eric, Have to disagree somewhat on the AWD Subaru being safer than a Camry w 4 snows(assuming FWD). While the Sub may have better traction while accelerating, the “all season” radials will be much worse at braking and cornering in snow/ice/slushy conditions. And if you put 4 studded snows on the Camry it would be closer to a draw. From my personal experience only though.

      • Paul says:

        It actually works in a lot of places so it isn’t insane. All season tires are bad on ice where most accidents happen.

      • Paul says:

        SUVs and AWD cars are usually the first ones in the ditch (or worse). Think they don’t need to slow down.


    I agree with raising the limit and would also like to see the 55mph limit from Latham to Clifton Park also raised because everyone travels at 65 or 70 there with the exception of a few people who sometimes drive dangerously too slow.

    • Rob says:

      If the speed limit is 55 and people are going 65-70 the people going “slower” are not in the wrong. The people going 65-70 are the problem. They are the ones that need to be pulled over and ticketed.

  14. drdirt says:

    As a long-distance driver for many years all over the US, I’m pretty impressed with most of my fellow high-speed drivers. When the speed limit changes from 65 to 70, we all increase our speed, mostly already over the limit. YESS, increase the limit on Northway and Thruway ,.,.,.,.,.,.,, ,.,.,. ( just be careful of those state workers between exit 24 and 25) especially Suburus.

  15. Charlie Stehlin says:

    You all can go as fast as you darn well please,
    Go on hurry away, zoom by, get there first,
    While there is me in the slow lane, watch, look-sees,
    Maybe so as to keep you from being nursed.

    I take my time nowadays when on the road,
    I see no sense in racing round anymore,
    Last thing I want is me splattered like a toad,
    A cop with the bad news knocking on my door.

  16. Charlie Stehlin says:

    JohnL says: “that’s how I deal with entering a highway where cars are going 75-80 mph.”

    Perchance they do decide to up the speed on our highways, which is just another sign of the longing society has to hurry-up and get there yesterday, surely the slow lane will still be reserved for those without lead feet, so that there should be no worrying about merging onto any highway!

  17. Steven Frederick says:

    Please keep the limit at 65 because in reality most people are doing 70 if the speed limit is raised it will just take more life’s. Just look at the work zone accidents

  18. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Drivers tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding.”

    And to think how much more gas will be expended when the speed limits go up! To think how much more business we’ll be giving to Shell or Sunoco, how much more carbon emissions into the air!

    • Rob says:

      What is wrong with Shell or Sunoco?? Shouldn’t we as a country be giving $$ to them instead of foreign countries?? Maybe someday we will become an exporter of oil and stop relying on the Middle East.

  19. Paul says:

    A common cause of an accident is a too slow driver who won’t pass on a two lane roads. Accidents on interstates with multiple lanes are not very common. That is why they are big news when they happen usually in a storm.

  20. Paul says:

    What is the actual data here? How many high speed crashes how many injuries or deaths, is it really dangerous now? Just wondering.

  21. Justin Farrell says:

    If people can’t figure out that the left lane is for passing, and moving over to the right lane(s) so that others can pass also… what makes anyone think that changing a speed regulation is going to help things?

  22. ADKNative says:

    Totally agree!!

  23. Allen Lindsay says:

    Leave the limit at 65mph!

  24. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Drivers tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding. You’d have to travel 100 miles to save roughly 5 minutes, moving at 80 mph instead of 75 mph.”

    What about carbon emissions? Did New York factor this in with upping the speed limit? New York! Ahead of the game in reducing it’s impact on global warming…..isn’t this what they were shouting out? It is plain to see why we are so fractured as a country…because both parties talk out of one side of their mouths only. You’d think the democrats just once in a while would smarten up and get brazen like the Republicans brazen, and do what they feel is best all around, not what they think the voters will salivate over! If that is what this even is!

  25. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “People have also grown more comfortable driving at higher speed limits ”

    But of course! That’s because we have become accustomed to, or conditioned into, doing every ‘thing’ at a hurry-up pace….high-speed internet, high-speed this and that. Our rate of motion is getting ahead of us we cannot keep up. Let’s get there yesterday. Look at us! Never enough time to stop and smell the roses! We’re racing towards our graves while missing out on all of the wonders (what remain of them) that surround us!

  26. Jeanne says:

    HECK NO!!

  27. Tim McGr says:

    I oppose raising the speed limit on I-87 in New York State. 65 mph is fast enough. Instead of making highways hazardous deathtraps, how about making the railroads faster so that the folks in a hurry stay OFF the highways.

  28. Mike Hughes says:

    all interstate highways and state 4 lanes are designed and built to be driven at higher than posted speeds.

  29. Scott says:

    If it is raised to 70 people will do 80 / 85 MPH
    We live in upstate NY with ice snow and terrible road conditions more months than we want to say, with limited cell service – not a good idea at all

    Even RT 90
    Same thought process / keep it as is

  30. Ben says:

    I drive to Schenectady five or six times per year. I don’t think anyone drives the speed limit. 55? I don’t think so. I drive 70 to 75 and people pass me like I am standing still. It is a nice road but the Bridge joiners need work. Any pace where you go over a bridge is very jarring for the car. But I think they are trying to resolve the bridge joiner problems.
    Connecticut roads are bad, but getting better.

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