MI Pushing the 85th Percentile “Again”

Michigan has had an issue fixing its roads and for the last two years the Republican controlled Legislature and the Republican Governor have not been able to decide or agree on what the solution might be. I believe what has been decided was an increase in gas taxes, some money from the imaginary general fund which also contains the Medicaid expansion money, and an inflation factor (my idea) in the gas tax law going into the future. It solves 50% of what is needed to fix the deteriorating Michigan infrastructure.

It is pretty well known and proven, vehicles are more efficient at lower speeds. If you get out on highways 96, 696, 75, 275, etc.; you would wonder if such were true or not, especially when gasoline was $3+/gallon and TBTOTF (too big, too often, too fast) dinosaurs were out there cruising at 80-85MPH in 70MPH zones. Mind you, I am not a left lane hog and usually run the right lane and move to the center to pass at my 70-75mph speed. Even then, you will find someone who wishes to get up-close and personal at 2 car lengths behind you to where you can not see their headlights anymore. Its like, what gives? Oh, I could go faster; but, what is the point? I may arrive a second sooner if lucky.

I had an interesting discussion with some of the proponents of the 85th percentile in setting speed limits on highways. Their points vary; but much of this goes back to a sixties study by Dave Solomon who suggested the 85th percentile as the right speed limit to set. If 85% of the drivers are going 70MPH, then this is the speed limit even if it is 65MPH (never seen this applied backwards yet). They go on to cite various supporting anecdotal factors such as people going too slow cause most of the accidents, the police become the enforcers and we begin to resent them so we should not make it such, my friends should not be made criminals for speeding, etc. It is unique how many excuses are made to increase speed and go faster. Except the proponents of going fast conflate the issue and only present one issue as a cause of accidents. The proponents cite accident reports of people claiming they were doing the speed limit when they were involved in an accident with someone going slower. Is this good data? Well maybe, if it was recorded on a radar; but more than likely, this was a report by the driver of the car supposedly doing the speed limit. What driver would report doing 80MPH to the police? Going too slow is an issue as well as going too fast or what one might call “speed variation” which encompasses both factors.

Advocates of the 85th Percentile approach argue the 85th usually brings about a reduction in the need for enforcement and reduces crash risk by narrowing variation among vehicle speeds. Studies have shown the speeds do not remain within that narrow range for long and speeds have continued increasing beyond the newly set limit. The 85th Percentile is not a stationary point and is akin to a moving target and requiring a new 85th percentile target when people begin to exceed the now old 85th. There have been changes upwards before in Michigan and still the need for more speed increases. They will burn more gasoline in the end and fill the state coffers with revenues from it. There is a hint of libertarianism here or “I want to do what I want to do, its my right!”

Lets call it what it is; “Don’t impede my right to do as I want to do and do not force me to pay more in gasoline taxes.”