Passing bill speeds along despite safety fears

Mar 2, 2012 McClatchy Newspapers

CHEYENNE (MCT) -- A bill that would let some motorists break the speed limit to pass on two-lane highways was moved to the Senate floor on Wednesday.

The Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee unanimously supported the proposal. That came over objections from law enforcement groups, who said allowing higher speeds could increase the risks of crashes.

The "speeding to pass" bill, which has already won approval from the House, would let drivers exceed the speed limit by 10 mph if the vehicles they are passing are traveling slower than the speed limit.

Lt. Col. John Butler, interim director of the Wyoming Highway Patrol, said troopers already are taught to use discretion when giving drivers tickets when they exceed the speed limit while passing another vehicle.

He said the HB 21 could encourage motorists to take more risks and create the impression that it is safe to speed up and pass someone when the conditions might be dangerous.

"My fear is: If we allow in statute to go 10 mph over, what kind of atmosphere will that create?" he said. "I just know that any time you pass someone, the risks go up."

Sam Powell, director of the Wyoming Peace Officers Association, added that motorists could misinterpret what situations they could legally pass in.

"In the world we live in now, you know the word is going to be out that in Wyoming it's fine to drive 10 mph faster to pass somebody," he said.

"It will be out there, flagged across the Internet and truck stops and everywhere else. But the finer points of the bill won't be out there."

He said those "finer points" include:

- Motorists would only be able to pass one vehicle at a time.

- Motorists can't pass someone if the other vehicle is driving at or above the speed limit.

But legislators said the current laws are unfair.

Rep. Del McOmie, R-Lander, who is sponsoring the bill, said drivers should not be forced to break the law any time they pass someone on a two-lane highway.

He said drivers could be risking their safety if they didn't speed.

"(Law enforcement) recognizes this safety situation too," he said. "My concern is that if this already is the practice (for law enforcement), why don't we put it into law?"

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