State Sen. Philip C. Jimeno first felt the need for speed while driving between his Brooklyn Park home and his native West Virginia.
Crossing into Maryland's western neighbor, Jimeno's foot pressed down on the gas pedal. His car surged as he accelerated from 55 miles per hour to 65 mph, the legal speed limit there on rural interstates.
Jimeno, a second-term Democrat, is trying to rally support in theSenate to adopt the 65 mph limit on Maryland's rural highways. The House of Delegates approved the measure, 96-36, two weeks ago. The county's 13-member House contingent voted, 5-3, with the majority.
"It started with that personal experience several years ago," said Jimeno, who will present the bill to other members of the Senate JudicialProceedings Committee tomorrow afternoon. "I said, 'I want to do that. Let me do that also.' "
Proponents say motorists will drive at a speed they find safe regardless of posted speed limits. While 78 percent of the drivers traveling the rural interstates exceeded 55 mph last year, only one in 25 accidents occurred on those highways, they say.
"If nine out of 10 people are violating the law, maybe those nine out of 10 people aren't criminals,"said Delegate Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery County, the bill's chief sponsor. "Perhaps, the law is wrong."
"If you drive 55 miles per hour, you become a hazard as the other cars start weaving around you," said Jimeno, who sponsored similar legislation unsuccessfully two years ago.
Raising the speed limit also will help the state preserve its share of federal highway aid, which is contingent on enforcement of 55 mph speed limit, Jimeno said.
Opponents fear the higher speed limit will be unsafe on the rural highways but encourage reckless driving in rural areas as well.
"I think it's proven the 55 mile per hour limit is much safer," said Delegate Elizabeth S. Smith, R-Davidsonville. "That has kept the serious automobile accidents down. If 65 meant 65, it might be all right. But we all know it will mean 75 or 80. (My vote) was strictly a safety thing."
Dembrow's bill automatically would raise the maximumspeed limit to 65 mph on the state's rural, divided highways. But itwould allow the State Highway Administration to lower speeds if it desired.
If approved, speeds would increase along eight miles of Route 50 between Annapolis and Bowie, and 12 miles of Interstate 97 between the state capital and Glen Burnie, an SHA official said. The SHAhas estimated it would cost $50,000 to change speed limitsigns.
Jimeno is expected to present amendments tomorrow to appease Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has pledged to veto any attempts to increasethe speed limit. The amended bill would enable the governor to raisethe speed limit after a one- or two-year trial in Western Maryland to evaluate the impact on gas consumption and safety.
Delegates Philip Bissett, R-Mayo; Michael Busch, D-Annapolis; Joan Cadden, D-Brooklyn Park; Charles "Stokes" Kolodziejski, D-Carvel Beach; and Victor Sulin, D-Severn, approved the bill.
Delegates Smith, Marsha Perry, D-Crofton, and George Owings, D-Owings, voted against it. Five did not vote.
"It's not like they'll be going 65 through a school zone,"said Bissett. "I say give it a try and see how it works."