1. Florida Politics

75 mph: Full speed to the state of absurdity

Published Nov. 16, 2013

Surely there is a secret committee that meets regularly, probably up in Tallahassee, to keep Florida vying for the title of State of Absurdity.

Possible motto: You'll never think up something too ridiculous to happen here!

This week, we had the guy charged with pretending to be a cop so he could get a discount at the Dunkin' Donuts drive-through. Seriously, how much would you risk for a cheaper apple fritter?

On a more sobering note, a panel of lawmakers shot down an effort to repeal the controversial "stand your ground" law, despite criticism from many corners about Florida's shoot-first mentality. One legislator said he wouldn't change "one damn comma" — not that this makes you think anyone had their minds made up or anything.

And speaking of urgent legislative priorities, in the 2014 session you will likely hear of a push to increase the maximum speed limit on our rural interstates from 70 to 75 mph, at least where road engineers think it's safe enough. The speed limit is 70 on highways including Interstates 75 and 10 and Florida's Turnpike, among others.

Now, if you have driven around much in this state, you know many of your fellow motorists consider those numbers to be a suggestion, a mere starting point.

In fact, many Florida drivers consider it felonious for you to go along in the left lane at the actual speed limit — the state-mandated maximum. And they will object in the time-honored tradition of trying to run you down until you move over.

So if the current 70 mph on those roadside signs reads to some as "around 80ish," a speed limit of 75 is sure to kick things up a notch. And it's a no-brainer that speed makes it harder to slow down, stop or avoid trouble on the road.

Speed has been cited as a factor in about a third of all car wreck fatalities — that's nearly 10,000 deaths — in 2011, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

And if you don't buy the safety argument, there's this one: Are we seriously advocating a law that will waste gas in the name of getting there a little bit faster?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's website, you can assume each 5 mph you drive above 50 mph costs an extra 25 cents a gallon.

If there's a consolation to those of us who think the speed limit is just fine, thanks, at least this turns out to be a bipartisan bad idea, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican, and Jeff Clemens, a Democrat from Lake Worth.

Here's the more important question, though:

Don't we have bigger fish to fry up there in Tallahassee — the budget, educational standards, tax cuts, that sort of thing?

Does raising the speed limit have a single thing to do with what needs fixing in Florida?

Still, it's sure to be a crowd-pleaser with the pedal-to-the-metal, I-can't-drive-55 set. And notably, it will require the signature of Gov. Rick Scott in order to become the law of the land, or at least the state.

And in an election year, yet!

So there's Florida for you. If this unnecessary, pandering and potentially dangerous change flies in Tallahassee — if it's what passes for getting something done around here — we're probably close to winning that coveted state title yet again.