The top speed on some Maryland highways could go to 70 miles per hour under a bill passed by the Senate Thursday.
The measure carried by a vote of 39 to 7, with dissenters warning increasing speed limits could cause more crashes and traffic fatalities.
Sen. George C. Edwards, a Garrett County Republican and the bill's sponsor, said the bill authorizes but does not require the State Highway Administration to raise speed limits on some interstates and expressways. Most interstate highways are built to handle vehicles going 70 miles per hour, he said, noting that neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia already have that as their top speed.
"Most people go what they consider a safe speed," Edwards said.
But Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, warned that speed is often a factor in traffic crashes and fatalities. He argued that many drivers already go up to 75 or 76 mph now on highways with 65-mph speed limits, believing they can go that fast and avoid getting a speeding ticket. Raising the limit to 70 mph will encourage those drivers to go 81 or 82 mph, Brochin predicted.
"I just think it's too fast," Brochin said. "Speed kills."
If passed by the House, Maryland would join 22 other states in setting a 70 mph maximum speed. A dozen permit 75 mph, while a few allow 80 or 85 mph.
Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, joined rural senators in speaking in support of higher speed limits, noting that the top speed on the Intercounty Connector in the Washington suburbs is only 60 miles per hour.
The ICC speed limit was raised from 55 mph to 60 mph in 2013. According to an analysis the Maryland Transportation Authority, the crash rate jumped 25 percent afterward.