By Daniel Lovering
CAMBRIDGE, Mass (Reuters) - Maine next week will increase the speed limit on a remote section of Interstate 95 near the Canadian border to 75 miles per hour, the highest speed limit in New England.
The new speed limit takes effect on Tuesday, when the current 65 miles per hour signs will be replaced along 110 miles of the highway between Old Town and Houlton, said Mark Latti, a transportation department spokesman.
The change was prompted by legislation introduced by state Representative Alexander Willette, a Republican, and approved earlier this year. Willette said it was an issue his constituents had brought up while he was going door-to-door last fall.
"Their main reasoning is, everyone is traveling 75 anyway and they are already not getting pulled over," he said. "Why not make it official?"
Latti, the transportation department spokesman, said the section of highway -- a long, straight road through a sparsely populated area -- could handle the increase from an engineering standpoint, and that studies showed most people were already driving comfortably at 74 to 75 miles per hour there.
The speed limit had been 70 miles per hour from 1959, when the interstate was built, until 1973, when it was lowered to 55 under national legislation, he said. It was raised to 65 in 1987 after Congress raised the national speed limit.
But raising speed limits, as many states have done over the years, leads to more deaths from accidents, said Anne Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Virginia. That's because drivers have less time to react at higher speeds and sustain more severe injuries due to the greater force of impact, she said.
Officials typically raise speed limits because "people want to get places a little bit faster," Fleming said, but they may not be aware of the consequences.
Nationwide, speed limits generally are 65 or 70 miles per hour, though they are as high as 85 in parts of Texas, according to data compiled by the Institute.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)