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Capital Region state Assemblyman seeks higher speed limit in New York, but is it safe?

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara
Lucas Willard
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara

A Capital Region Assemblyman has introduced a bill to raise New York's speed limit. But studies have shown the faster you go, the more likely it is you’ll be involved in a crash.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara's bill would increase the maximum speed limit on certain roadways in the state to 70 miles per hour. The Democrat from the 111th district says technology has changed and more people are OK with driving faster on the highway.

"There's 43 other states that have speed limits above 65 miles, 65 miles an hour," said Santabarbara . "And even our neighboring state of Pennsylvania has a speed limit above 65 miles an hour. And if you look at, you know, technology has obviously changed the cars of today. The last time that the speed limit changed was in 1995. And cars of today are a lot different than they were back then they have a lot more safety features in them. They have better technology, they're easier to drive. And I think what you'll find is that a lot, a lot of people, a lot more people feel more comfortable driving at a higher speed at this point, roads are engineered much better than they were years ago."

A 2006 National Cooperative Highway Research Program report found higher speed limits are associated with an increased likelihood of deaths and incapacitating injuries, while suggesting people may drive more cautiously when going faster.

Santabarbara's measure allows the commissioner of the Department of Transportation to increase the speed limit on state roadways that meet department criteria for the new maximum speed. It's an open secret that motorists traveling along the Thruway and Northway cruise at speeds above posted limits.

"Let's remember what highways are designed to do," Santabarbara said. "They're designed to transport people from one area to another, whether it's through the entire state or through specific areas, quickly and efficiently. So it makes sense for us to revisit this, to take a look at it. It's only seven states left, New York being one of them, that do not have a speed limit above 65 miles an hour. And if you look at what the Institute of Transportation Engineers says, you know, in some of their publications, speed limits, it says specifically, speed limits can and should be revisited and restudied as safety data is compiled, as traffic patterns change and as technology changes, and that's exactly what's happened since 1995. Things have changed quite a bit.”

John Corlett is Vice President of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Northeast.

"AAA generally thinks that speed, speed limits should be set lowered or raised by the engineering professionals, for example, in the state D.O.T. or on the local level," said Corlett. But I guess the concern that we would have is speeding-related fatal crashes have increased dramatically in the last several years. For example in New York State in 2021, there were 364 speed related fatal crashes. Compare that to 2017, not that long ago, there was 271. So almost 100 more people died in crashes. And that's not a trend unique to New York, we see that across the country and in the Northeast. I just talked to a colleague up in Connecticut, he was looking at Connecticut D.O.T. data as late as December on the Merritt Parkway in Hamden. They took some measurements there. One in seven drivers are going 15 miles an hour or more over the limit. One in 17 drivers are going 20 over the limit, and one in 19 drivers going 25 over the limit, and that's again by the Merritt Parkway in Hamden. So this is a trend I think nationally so I don't know if that now is the right time to start have a discussion about raising limits."

Santabarbara says he expects fellow Democrats in both the Assembly and the Senate to get behind his bill.

"From what I've seen on social media and response I've seen from the community, it's been a generally positive response," said Santabarbara .
"There will always be, you know, some differing opinions on bills like this. And it's still fairly a new bill. I just introduced it. So I think the answer to that will lie in the coming weeks. You know, I would expect to see support in my house here in the Assembly and the Senate as well. How the governor is going to feel about it, I don't know. I haven't engaged that opinion yet. But we're not there yet, either.”

Asked to weigh in, representatives of the New York State Police and the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee told WAMC their respective agencies do not comment on pending legislation.

A spokesperson for the governor says she will "carefully consider any legislation that passes both houses."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.