By Aaron Deslatte
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Citing the death of a highway patrol trooper this month, Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday he would veto a bill the Florida Legislature passed which would raise the speed-limit on some stretches on interstate.
Scott attended the funeral last week of Trooper Chelsea Richard, who was killed on duty May 3 along with a tow truck driver when a pickup truck veered onto the shoulder on Interstate-75 near Ocala.
Richard, the driver and another man were on the east shoulder after a seven-vehicle wreck when the pickup struck them. At her funeral, her fellow officers asked Scott to veto the bill.
"It was convincing," Scott told reporters Tuesday after a Cabinet meeting, noting Richard had a four-year-old son.
"I'm going to stand with law enforcement, and I want everybody to stay safe. I don't want anybody to be injured, so I'm going to veto that bill."
Although the bill, SB 392, required the Department of Transportation to study the safety of increasing speed limits up to 75 mph on some Florida interstates, critics argued do so would increase the body counts on roadways.
"Florida has the 6th worst drivers and the number one most careless drivers in the nation," said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, one of 56 House members who voted against the bill. "Add constant congestion, millions of tourists, and the rise of distracted driving to the mix, and we would have a recipe for disaster."
The boost to 75 mph would have applied to stretches of four-lane Interstate highways with current maximum speeds of 70 mph. That could have included portions of Interstates 4, 75 and 95, and parts of Florida's Turnpike.
Divided highways with at least four lanes in sparsely populated rural areas could have seen speed limits boosted from 65 mph to 70 mph, including Alligator Alley, which carries Interstate 75 through the Everglades. The bill also would have increased minimum speeds.
The Republican governor cannot actually veto the bill until legislative leaders sign and send it to him, but he has indicated in recent days he planned to block it from becoming law.
"I can tell you there are times I'd like to go faster," Scott said. "By doing this, I think were doing the right thing for our troopers and the right thing for our law enforcement. I've been to too many laws enforcement funerals."
Florida's highways have had a 70 mph maximum since 1996, the last time the speed limit was reviewed.
AAA, the auto organization, lobbied against the bill and declared it was "extremely pleased" with the governor's decision.
"Speed-related crashes are a major contributing factor in traffic crashes including 30 percent of traffic fatalities," said Kevin Bakewell, AAA senior vice president. "Maintaining Florida's current speed limits will undoubtedly prevent injuries and save lives on our roadways."
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