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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Higher Speed Limits Mean Fewer Places To Pass On Oregon Highways

Oregon Department of Transportation
This map shows speed limit increases for specific highway sections in central and eastern Oregon.

Speed limits are going up on many eastern Oregon highways next year. But higher speeds will mean fewer chances to pass on the region's two-lane roads.

The top legal speed will go from 55 to 65 mph on sections of nine rural Oregon highways. The new limit takes effect next March. But crews from the Oregon Department of Transportation are already at work re-striping some of the passing zones in the area. Some passing zones are going away and some are getting shorter.

Why shorter?

David Hurwitz, an associate professor of transportation engineering at Oregon State University, said faster speeds give drivers less time to make good choices.

"As it ends up, we are not particularly good as drivers at judging speed and distance of moving objects,” he explained.

Especially when one of those objects is moving towards you. So a shorter passing zone is supposed to encourage drivers to make their passing decision sooner once the speed limit is increased.