- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A Republican senator from Bozeman has proposed higher driving speeds and higher fines for speeding on Montana’s highways.

Sen. Scott Sales introduced Senate Bill 375 in the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee on Thursday.

Under the proposal, trucks would be allowed to drive 70 mph on all highways, up from 60 mph on two-lane highways and 65 mph on interstates. It would increase the maximum highway speed for passenger vehicles from 75 mph to 80 mph.

Not everyone would choose to drive faster, Sales said.

“I think the highways are built for a higher speed,” he said. “I think we can safely drive five miles an hour more effectively and save some people time if they choose to.”

Speeding tickets in Montana are currently $20 or $40 depending on how fast the driver was traveling. Sales’ proposal would increase fines incrementally from $20 to $200.

The additional state revenue from speeding fines would total about $50,000 annually, according to a fiscal note compiled by the Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning.

Montana Highway Patrol Chief Col. Tom Butler said the fine increases would bring Montana up to speed with seven surrounding states that on average charge $102 for driving 1 to 10 mph over the limit, and $137 on average for driving 11 to 20 mph over the limit.

Butler favored Sales’ bill after state troopers opposed two proposals for an 85-mph speed limit earlier this session.

Butler said a 5-mph increase is more reasonable than 10 mph, but the patrol primarily supports Sales’ bill because it includes research before implementation.

Dwane Kailey, chief engineer at Montana Department of Transportation, said his department would consider road curvature, accident history, access points and existing speed limits before giving the go-ahead to increase road segments to 80 mph.

Representatives of truck drivers and insurance agencies opposed the bill, saying it would be unsafe no matter how much research is conducted beforehand. “I don’t want to see a bunch of kids hurt or killed because we have to go faster,” said Bob Gilbert of the Montana Tow Truck Association.

Watkins and Shepard Trucking Owner Ray Kuntz said his insurance company doesn’t cover truckers driving over 65 mph.

Butler said cars may be less likely to attempt passing trucks on two-lane roads if the trucks are driving faster than 60 or 65 mph.

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