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Know the Law – Michigan speed limit increase

As of May 1, 2017, the speed limit began increasing on designated roadways throughout Michigan.

Why the speed limit increase? Last year, the Michigan Legislature passed a law instructing the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Michigan State Police (MSP) to consider raising the speed on certain roads across the state. According to MDOT and MSP, now is the time to raise the speed limits, particularly since they say motorists are already traveling the higher speed limit on the roads that have been selected.

On May 1, MDOT began changing the speed limit signs on the affected roads. However, motorists need to be aware that the higher speed is not official until the particular roadway is actually signed.

The speed limit increase will affect West Michigan residents traveling to and from northern Michigan on US-31 and US-131, north of Grand Rapids. The speed limit on these two roadways will be raised to 75 mph. The speed limit will also increase to 65 mph on parts of M-37 and M-55, around the Cadillac area.

When it comes to speed limits, what exactly does Michigan law say? The law basically says that drivers are not supposed to operate their vehicles faster than the posted speed limit. According to the Motor Vehicle Code: “A person operating a vehicle on a highway shall operate that vehicle at a careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less than is reasonable and proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface, and width of the highway and of any other condition existing at the time.”

However, sometimes it may be necessary for motorists to drive slower than the posted speed limit, perhaps due to weather conditions, heavy traffic or decreased visibility. It is up to the driver to make appropriate judgment calls about the speed of their vehicle.

Do higher speed limits contribute to more deadly car accidents? A 20-year nationwide study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently concluded that boosting maximum speed limits has led to more fatal motor vehicle accidents across the United States. In particular, the study found that every 5 mph maximum speed limit increase caused a 4 percent increase in the fatality rate, and on freeways and interstates (the roads that typically see speed limit increases) the fatality rate jumped 8 percent.

Given the increase in Michigan speed limits, it is more important than ever for drivers to remember two things to stay safe: 1) the right lane is for driving and the left lane is for passing, and 2) avoid driving distractions -- especially texting.

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