Maine State Police Seek to Reduce Speed-Related Accidents in Winter

When it comes to inclement winter weather, Maine is no stranger. But when accidents result, it’s not typically the weather that is blamed. Rather, it’s the driver reaction to the weather. Most typically, operators of motor vehicles are failing to adjust their speed to the current conditions.

It’s for this reason state police have  erected flashing highway signs urging drivers to slow down to 45-mph, rather than go the normal 60- or 70-mph that is posted. But here’s the problem, according to a new report by WMTW: Those 45-mph speed limits aren’t legally enforceable. The notice is only a guideline, giving motorists a better sense of what is the safer speed given the conditions. But the black-and-white posted speed signs are the only sign that is enforceable by law.

Last year, authorities in Maine responded to an estimated 700 snow-related accidents. That figure doesn’t include incidents that did not result in injury or cause more than $1,000 in damage.

Speeding is a major problem in any season, but it’s especially perilous in winter, when visibility is reduced and the roads are caked with ice and snow. As one trucker described it, error on a dry road may result in a close call, but in the middle of winter, there’s a much higher potential for a fatality.

That’s why authorities stress adherence to the temporary 45-mph limit when it’s posted.

It’s worth pointing out Maine has some of the highest speed limits in the country. In 1995, Congress repealed the national maximum speed limit, which was 65 mph in rural areas and 55 mph in urban areas. Today, 33 states – including Maine – increased their speed limits to 70 mph. In Maine, the top speed limit was raised in 2011 to 75 mph. At the time, state Rep. Alexander Willette was quoted as saying everyone was already traveling that fast. “Why not make it official?”

The highest speed limit in the country is in Texas and Utah, where it’s set at 80 mph.

Yet, speeding is considered a factor in one-third of all fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The economic cost of crashes involving excessive speed are $40.5 billion annually.

It’s also true, as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety notes, that increasing the speed limit results in a higher number of accidents and deaths. Drivers have less time to react and tend to sustain injuries that are more severe due to the greater force of impact. This is especially true in the midst of a winter storm.

That means just because a sign says you can travel 75 mph doesn’t mean you should. In fact, when the roads are bad, you may be far safer traveling at half that speed.

And while temporary speed limits may not be enforceable, law enforcement authorities warn that it is still illegal to drive recklessly – and that could include traveling too fast for the current conditions.

In addition to reducing speed to meet current conditions, make sure to maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you. Keep in mind you will need more time to stop in icy, snow conditions. And when stopping, avoid sudden movements of steering. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, make sure to gently pump the brake.

If you are the victim of a Portland car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

45 mph restrictions not enforceable, but carelessness is, police say, Feb. 5, 2015, By David Charns,

More Blog Entries:

“Violent” Teen Crash in Maine Attributed to Alcohol, Speed, Dec. 8, 2014, Portland Maine Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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