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Going to Louisiana? Might want to speed up

By John LaPlante
The (Baton Rouge) Advocate

A House panel suggested Tuesday that slow drivers speed up on interstate highways – to at least 50 mph in the country and 45 mph through a city.

A highway safety expert says the law already instructs slow drivers to stay in the right lane.

The author of the minimum-speed bill said that's obviously not working.

"I've come up behind people going 30 mph on Interstate 12," Rep. Pete Schneider, R-Slidell, told the House Transportation Committee, which sent the bill to the full House for further debate.

Schneider wrote HB 273 to require drivers to travel at least 50 mph on interstates, allowing a typical 70-mph maximum speed.

Urban slowpokes are a bigger problem because they slow congested traffic, said Peter Allain, traffic engineering division administrator for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

"It is safer to bring people up to a minimum speed," Allain said.

So panelists included a 45-mph minimum speed where the maximum speed is 60 mph, the typical limit on interstates through cities.

Allain said the highway department has authority to post minimum speed limits. For instance, there's a stretch on Interstate 10 through Baton Rouge that is a 45-mph minimum-speed zone.

He said the department sets minimum speeds when traffic studies show they are needed.

Schneider said such traffic studies are rare, so the minimum-speed zones are rare.

Police almost never ticket drivers even when they do go too slow in those zones, Schneider said.

"The thing about DOTD, you've got to push them," Schneider said. "I'm trying to put a bug under their seat."

Schneider said he wants minimum speed zones everywhere, and "I want signs, especially along Interstate 12, which I frequent," so drivers and police will know the limit.

As it goes to the House, the bill only sets the minimum zones where DOTD chooses to put up signs. Schneider predicted the bill will become law as a universal requirement.

"I think the signs are going up," he said after the committee hearing.

Allain estimated making minimum-speed signs to erect all along the state's interstates would cost about $500,000, a reasonable expense, he said.

State law requires drivers on multi-lane highways to stay in the right lane if they are traveling slower than the maximum speed limit, said Jim Champagne, director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.

"The law is good. The problem is (that) it's not being enforced," Champagne said.

He suggested people trying to "get slow drivers out of their way" might be more interested in exceeding, not matching, the safe, posted limit.

"I think it's the speeding we have the problem with," not slow drivers, he said.

Rep. Mert Smiley, R-Port Vincent, agreed.

He said he travels across the state and is rarely impeded by a slow driver on an interstate.

"My problem is always somebody going way faster than me," said Smiley, the only committee member to object to sending the bill to the full House.

Under the bill, too-slow drivers could be fined up to $175 and jailed for up to 30 days. Second or greater offenses could carry a fine up to $500 and 90 days in jail.

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