TRENTON — As the Pennsylvania Turnpike speed limit gets raised above 65 mph this spring, at least one Garden State lawmaker is eyeing the possibility of making the same change in New Jersey.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, a longtime advocate for a higher speed limit, said Thursday that he’s “actively pursuing it,” noting that Pennsylvania will become the 37th state with a limit above 65 mph on at least some of its highways.

O’Scanlon said a higher speed limit wouldn’t make Jersey drivers go any faster. He believes the limit should be set at the speed at which 85 percent of drivers regularly travel — which on New Jersey highways would be between 70 and 75 mph.

“You’re really just recognizing the speeds people are already traveling. You’re providing for more uniform traffic flow. You’re making people less paranoid when they’re on the highways by having realistic speed limits. It’s exactly the right thing to do,” he said.

In a 2009 poll, Fairleigh Dickinson University found that 84 percent of New Jersey drivers said they have driven over 65 mph on New Jersey highways, including 25 percent who said they do it most of the time and 22 percent who said they often do.

Though the speed limit is 65, only one in five drivers told FDU the "real" speed limit on New Jersey highways — the speed at which you can go without getting a ticket — is less than 70 mph. One in four said the real speed limit is 75 mph or greater, and 5 percent thought you could exceed 80 mph.

Any change in the speed limit would require the approval of Democratic lawmakers. The chairman of the Assembly transportation committee, John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment.

Yes, lots of times people tend to go faster than the posted speed limit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safer on that roadway.

Such an idea could make sense on some roads but not all, and would need to examined by engineers, said Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs and government relations for the AAA New Jersey Automobile Club.

“Any proposal is going to have to be looked at specifically because this can’t just be about raising speed limits for the sake of raising speed limits,” Lewis said. “Yes, lots of times people tend to go faster than the posted speed limit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safer on that roadway.”

Assemblyman Declan OScanlon, R-Monmouth
Assemblyman Declan OScanlon, R-Monmouth

Lewis said there hasn’t been talk in Trenton of raising the speed limit, outside of one or two lawmakers.

“Right now, the best practice is to make sure that people are following the laws. If people are going the right speed, and everyone’s traveling at the right speed, that makes the roads safer,” she said. “Any effort to do something else, we’re going to have to look at to make sure that it takes engineering into account.”

In New Jersey last year, 556 people were killed in car crashes, according to unofficial statistics compiled by the State Police.

That’s the same number that was killed in crashes in 2014. Unsafe speed was the contributing circumstance in 70 fatal crashes that year, the least in 10 years, according to State Police reports.

O’Scanlon said New Jersey highways are engineered in such a way to allow for speeds over 65 mph.

You also have some officials who believe that you should set laws in such a way that you can entrap people and steal their money. That is theft, and it’s complete misuse of government power.

“When you set reasonable speed limits based on sound engineering criteria, you get the greatest amount of compliance. You get the greatest amount of safety, with the least amount of punishment. That should be our overwhelming goal,” O’Scanlon said.

O’Scanlon said a lower speed limit leads to people being ticketed for driving at speeds that are inherently safe and that drivers then get angry with police officers because “they know when they’re being victimized.”

“You also have some officials who believe that you should set laws in such a way that you can entrap people and steal their money. And they think that’s an acceptable activity of government. And they’re wrong. That is theft, and it’s complete misuse of government power,” O’Scanlon said.

Starting his spring, most of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will have a 70 mph speed limit, under a change approved Wednesday. Portions now at 55 mph will remain at that speed. That state’s Department of Transportation is studying whether to also raise the limit on other highways, including Interstate 80.

A spokesman for the state agency that runs the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway said things are fine the way they are.

“The Turnpike Authority believes the current speed limits on the Turnpike and Parkway are appropriate,” Tom Feeney said.

New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Schapiro said the agency "has not had any discussions about raising the speed limit in New Jersey. The speed limit is established by the Legislature, and it would be up to them to make any changes.”

There aren’t any bills currently pending in Trenton to raise New Jersey’s speed limit.

But there is a proposal to let towns and counties lower the speed limit to 15 mph near parks. That idea was approved 37-0 in the Senate in 2014 but then wasn’t taken up by the Assembly transportation committee.

Another new proposal, which hasn’t gotten a hearing, would require the state to lower the speed limit to 15 mph or 20 mph in communities or neighborhoods without sidewalks, if residents request it and the municipal council approves.

In 1995, Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Law, which had set the maximum limit at 55 mph nationwide. The speed limit in New Jersey was raised to 65 mph in 1998.

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