WATERTOWN, S.D. – With the speed limit on interstates in South Dakota going up to 80 mph Wednesday, Stone’s Truck Stop office manager Donna Schmidt said the surprise decision by this past session’s legislators hasn’t generated a lot of talk at the station just off of Interstate 29 in Watertown.
“I haven’t heard a lot of people saying they are for or against it,” she said.
Personally, Schmidt said she drives 78 mph on the interstate and doesn’t think she’ll drive any faster.
“If you blow a tire or hit a deer at 80 mph that’s not a good thing,” she said.
However, she said maybe the legislators thought people were driving 80 mph anyway and that the change just “makes it more legal.”
“I don’t know if the Highway Patrol will have a grace period” for going over 80 mph now or not, Schmidt said.
South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Craig Price said the plan is to strictly enforce the 80 mph limit across the state.
When asked if there would be a cushion over the 80 mph, Price said his officers handle every case on an individual basis. However, he said every driver going over 80 mph does face receiving a ticket. The price for a ticket for going 1 mph to 5 mph over the limit is $85.
South Dakota has just two interstates that the new law will affect – Interstate 29 running north and south between the North Dakota and Iowa border and Interstate 90 running east and west from the Minnesota border to the Wyoming line.
The speed limit will remain lower in the cities. For example, in Sioux Falls the speed limit is 65 mph through town. Other four-lane divided highways in South Dakota will remain at 70 mph.
The increase, however, from 75 mph to 80 mph gives South Dakota the highest speed limit in the region and is now one of four Western states with the highest speeds allowed on rural interstates. The other three are Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, although Idaho limits trucks to 70 mph. Both Wyoming and Idaho increased their speed limits last year.
In surrounding states, the speed limit is 70 mph on rural interstates in Minnesota and 75 mph in North Dakota and Montana. Montana – a state that before 1999 didn’t have a speed limit – is also considering raising the speed limit to 80 mph this year.
Kristi Sandal, the public information officer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation, said the new speed limit signs were already to go to be installed today.
She said that any stretch of interstate that was at 75 mph will go up to 80 mph starting today.
Sandal also said the reaction to the increased speed limit “depends on who you talk to and what you read.”
However, Schmidt wonders if the raising the limit is worth the cost of replacing all of the interstate signs.
The speed limit legislation was tucked into a much larger South Dakota transportation bill passed last month and signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. The bill also raises the gas tax and vehicle registration fees in the state. Many people were packing county offices the past few weeks paying their annual registration fees early to avoid the increased cost.
Schmidt said if people are driving 80 mph they’ll probably burn more gas and maybe that was the reason the speed limit was raised so the state could get more gas tax money.
Whatever the reason, traffic will probably be moving a little faster through South Dakota in the coming years.