By Dan Merritt, Advocate reporter
Driving 80-mph, South Dakota Highway Patrol captain Alan Welsh of the Sioux Falls area was glad he could be moving a bit faster toward the city where his office is located.
In mainly rural South Dakota with its wide open country, it’s a speed limit that makes sense, he said. For him, anyway, because he’s comfortable moving at that speed.
But some people aren’t, he acknowledged. In fact, it seems many aren’t.
“A lot of people are just driving 75-mph,” he stated while he was traveling I-90 on April 10 headed to Sioux Falls.
“Most of the traffic I clock (check) is between 75- and 80-mph. I’m out here on the interstate running radar right now.”
He continued: “I encourage (people) to stay in their comfort area (speed wise). I don’t want anybody to go faster than what they’re comfortable with.”
He disputed claims that if the state officially moved up to 80 mph on the interstate highways (which took effect April 1), motorists would be going 85- to 90-mph.
“When it was 75-mph, we’d get a few going 85 or 90. And we still get a few going 85, 90. But I don’t see more.
I’m not seeing more that think they can push it.
“In fact, I’ve seen a lot of people that are compliant with the speed limit. And that’s because I think they think it’s fast enough.”
It is plenty fast agreed local law enforcement at Winner.
Police chief Paul Schueth cautioned that drivers moving along at 80 mph need to be aware of the big rigs on the road around them, especially in front of them.
Most semis won’t be going any faster than 65- to 75-mph, like they have been. Drivers in other vehicles going faster now than they have been, need to take that into account, he advised.
“The closing rate is going to be a lot faster now at 80-mph coming up behind a semi on the interstate than what it was before.
“Hopefully nobody runs into them.”
Semis generally are restricted by their owner companies as to how fast they can rumble down a roadway, Schueth pointed-out. That’s between 65 and 70 for the most part.
And semi truck tires in general aren’t rated to go beyond 75-mph, he noted.
Both city police chief Schueth and Tripp County sheriff Shawn Pettit didn’t think local drivers on county or city roads were going to take license to driver faster just because the state has upped the legal speed on the interstates.
Pettit said he’ll be looking at reports about interstate accidents about six months down the line. ‘I’m waiting to see how that comes out,” he stated.
Particularly, he’s wondering if there may possibly be more mishaps or more severe ones.
That’s because vehicles will be traveling farther at such a high rate of speed in the time it takes for drivers to react to road/traffic circumstances around them.
That is, motorists will need more length of roadway in which to react and that length may not be enough to avoid a crash going 80 as opposed to 75 or 70, he indicated.
But patrolman captain Welsh said he doesn’t expect to see crash data jump with the new legal 80-mph speed limit.
“When we went from 65 to 75, everybody thought there was going to be a lot of crashes. But it hasn’t.
“Technology with vehicles being safer, handling better, airbags. We haven’t had issues, we haven’t had more crashes, we haven’t had more injuries.
“So, raising the speed limit did not result in more crashes. Certainly that’s our hope and expectation for this increase.”
Welsh said 80-mph is plenty fast enough to be motoring along and that those who plan to go faster had better be prepared to get pulled-over by SD highway patrolmen.
“We are enforcing it strictly. The speed limit’s 80 and we enforce the speed limit.”
Sure there will be discretion used by individual troopers. “Are we going to pull over every single person going 82 or 83, probably not. There’s enough to keep us busy stopping people at higher speeds.
“But could you get pulled-over at 83 and get a citation? Absolutely.”