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Should speeding drivers in N.H. enjoy a 10-mile-per-hour buffer?

House Bill 1063 would add a cushion to New Hampshire’s posted speed limits. But some lawmakers warn of serious safety concerns.

A speed limit sign and an electronic speed measurement showing how fast actual drivers are going on Old Colony Avenue in Boston in 2018.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Representative Dan Hynes told a committee room full of New Hampshire lawmakers on Tuesday he’s pretty sure they’re all a bunch of law-breakers.

Hynes, an independent from Bedford, said during a House Transportation Committee meeting that he suspects everyone who drove to the State House broke the speed limit, at least a smidge, on their way to conduct legislative business.

“If lawmakers aren’t following the law,” he said, “how can we expect the public to?”

Hynes wasn’t out to scold his lead-footed colleagues. He was making a rhetorical point in favor of his proposal, House Bill 1063, to add a 10-mile-per-hour cushion atop New Hampshire’s posted speed limits. That way, drivers caught going up to 40 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone would still enjoy a legal presumption that they were driving in a “reasonable and prudent” manner, as state law requires.

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Hynes said his bill isn’t just about cutting motorists some slack, it’s also an effort to guard against “erratic” enforcement of rules that “pretty much everyone” is breaking.

“The problem with allowing police to pull people over when they’re doing 31 in a 30,” he said, “is it leads to pretextual stops.”

In other words, Hynes said, a patrol officer with some time on their hands might initiate an exclusively speed-related traffic stop based on an unrelated hunch or a desire to see whether the driver has the smell of alcohol on their breath. (Hynes, by the way, is a defense attorney who specializes in drunken driving cases.)

But don’t step on the gas just yet. The committee also heard from several stakeholders who oppose the proposal.

Michael T. O’Donnell, a traffic engineer with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, said it would seem “unreasonable” and “counterintuitive” to expect drivers coming into New Hampshire to understand that the actual speed limits are 10 miles per hour higher than those posted. Besides, he said, federal law requires the lawful limit to be posted, so it would be impossible to comply with both HB 1063 and federal law.

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O’Donnell said the bill would arbitrarily override a careful review process that lawmakers already delegated to the DOT commissioner and local jurisdictions.

Daniel Goodman, public affairs director for AAA Northern New England, warned of safety concerns. Speed-related crashes already constitute nearly one-third of traffic fatalities, and raising speed limits can lead to more deaths, he said.

Paula Bedard, with the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire, called HB 1063 “an absurd bill that would only increase danger and cause more collisions, injuries and deaths to all road users.”

Lieutenant Christopher S. Storm with the New Hampshire State Police, who also opposed the bill, said he couldn’t immediately answer a question about how far over the speed limit a driver can go before triggering a traffic stop under current law. That, he said, is “a discretionary thing” among law enforcement.


This story first appeared in Globe NH | Morning Report, our free newsletter focused on the news you need to know about New Hampshire, including great coverage from the Boston Globe and links to interesting articles from other places. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.


Steven Porter can be reached at steven.porter@globe.com. Follow him @reporterporter.