, Newburyport, MA

July 5, 2013

Editorial: Granite State recklessly puts pedal to the metal

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Hurry up and drive safely, New Hampshire.

First came the announcement of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant for $1.4 million for sobriety checkpoints, motorcycle safety classes, seatbelt education and more.

Then, just hours later, Gov. Maggie Hassan announced she had signed House Bill 146 into law, raising the speed limit on Interstate 93 to 70 mph from Canterbury to the Vermont border, excepting the Franconia Notch area.

“Highway safety is something that affects every New Hampshire driver,” Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-NH-02, said in announcing the former. “This funding will help the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency continue its essential work of keeping our drivers safe and our roads secure.”

Then came the governor. In an editorial board meeting in March, Hassan seemed skeptical about the speed limit increase.

“Generally, I’m not crazy about people driving faster,” she said then. “My instinct is not to do it.”

She should have followed her instinct.

Upon signing the bill, the governor said the limited nature of the increase in a targeted area made her comfortable. So, too, did the “overwhelming, bipartisan support for the measure.”

Guess those lawmakers’ mothers never asked them, “If everyone else jumps off the bridge, does that mean you will?”

Apparently so.

Hassan is counting on drivers’ good sense — seriously.

“For their safety and the safety of others,” she said, “I encourage all motorists to use the common sense that Granite Staters are known for and respect the new speed limit.”

Good luck with that.

In February, state police Troop B commander Lt. Chris Wagner said the average speed on I-93, with a posted 65-mph speed limit, was 82 mph. His message to drivers? Slow down, drive the speed limit.

But maybe it’s another group of drivers the governor is counting on to keep it at 70 mph.

If so, Highway Safety Agency coordinator Peter Thomson doesn’t know them.

When the House Transportation Committee passed the bill in March, 10-4, Thomson called it “crazy.”

He opposed all three proposed speed limit hikes.

“I can’t quite fathom it,” he said in March.

That’s understandable.

State police last month reported an increase in “extreme” speeding on the state’s highways. At least once a month, Capt. John LeLacheur said, state police stop a motorist traveling 120 to 130 mph — or faster.

Scarier still, state police stop someone driving at least 90 to 100 mph every day, he said.

New Hampshire state police opposed any speed limit increase.

In Hassan’s defense, many were certain the Legislature had the votes to override her veto, should she have gone that route. That’s no reason to sign the bill.

State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, was a prime supporter of the higher speed limit.

He said when he drives 65 mph, he’s routinely passed by other drivers.

“If 90 percent of people do something, that is what we are consenting to,” he said. “All it will do is make us law-abiders.”

Back to your mother and the bridge ... Let’s hope there’s no study that shows 90 percent of Granite Staters drink and drive. Since when has popular practice been the basis for law?

Oh, wait, it’s in New Hampshire that people don’t need car insurance, aren’t required to use seat belts, can let the wind blow freely through their hair when riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

This is just one more illogical and unsafe step for the Live Free or Die state.