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Pass that truck, but not too fast


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Question: I am originally from Germany and am used to how trucks are required to stay out of the left lane and travel at a slower speed.  It doesn’t appear that is how it in the U.S., and I think that is a shame.  Do any states mandate trucks to drive slower? Will my insurance company penalize me if I get a ticket for going a higher rate of speed just to get by a truck?

Answer: Yes, according to information from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) there are some states that have a different speed limit for semi-trucks than they do for cars -- at least on some of their roadways.  And yes, it can hurt your car insurance rates if you get cited for speeding to get around a truck.

Speed limits vary – a lot

In the U.S., speed limits for highways and freeways vary depending on whether it is an urban or rural area or the type of limited access roadway.  The speed limit can vary a great deal from one state to the next, which makes it important for drivers keep an eye on the posted limit signs when traveling from one state to another.

Rural interstates tend to allow higher speed limits. Their speed limits vary from 55 mph in Alaska and Delaware to certain segments of roads in Utah and Texas that allow 80 mph. There is even one specific stretch on a toll road in Texas that allows traveling up to 85 mph.  It's not like portions of the Autobahn in Germany that have no speed limit at all, but that's high for U.S. roadways.

According to GHSA data, the following states have different speed limits for one or more of their different types of roadways.  All other states have the same speed limit for both cars and semi-trucks.

  • Arkansas – Rural interstates have a speed limit of 70 mph for cars and 65 mph for trucks.  On urban interstates, the speed limit is 55 mph for both.  For other limited access roads, the speed limit is 60 mph for both types of vehicles.
  • California – The speed limit for cars on rural interstates and other limited access roads is 70 mph, but only 55 mph for trucks.  On urban interstates, it’s 65 mph for cars and 55 mph for trucks. 
  • Idaho – Rural interstates have a speed limit of 75 mph for cars and 65 mph for trucks.  The speed limit is 65 mph for both cars and trucks on urban interstates and other limited access roads.
  • Illinois – On limited access roads, cars have a speed limit of 65 mph while trucks may only go 55 mph.  On urban interstates, cars and trucks have a speed limit of 55 mph.  As of January 2014, the limit is 70 mph for both cars and trucks on rural interstates.
  • Indiana – On rural interstates, cars have a speed limit of 70 mph while trucks can go only 65.  The speed limit on urban interstates is 55 mph for both, and on other limited access roads the limit is 65 mph for both. 
  • Michigan - The speed limit on rural and urban interstates, as well as limited access roadways, is 70 mph for cars and 60 mph for trucks.  If the speed limit on a portion of the interstate is below 70 mph, then the truck speed limit lowers to 55 mph.
  • Montana – Rural interstates have a 75 mph speed limit for cars and only 65 mph limit for trucks.  Urban interstates have the same limit of 65 for both cars and trucks. Other limited access roads have a 70 mph limit for both cars and trucks for the day and 65 mph for night.
  • Oregon – Rural interstates have a limit of 65 mph for cars and 55 mph for trucks.  For urban interstates and other limited access roads, the limit is 55 mph.  The exception being stretches of some urban interstates that have a 60 mph limit for cars.
  • Washington – On urban interstates, cars are able to drive 70 mph while trucks may only run at 60 mph.  The speed limit is 60 mph for both trucks and cars on limited access roads and urban interstates.

Slower traffic to the right

I am a big fan of how Germany, and many other European countries, mandates that trucks not travel in the “fast” (left) lane and also how cars are only supposed to use the left lane for passing – and the law is enforced. 

There are similar left lane laws in some states.  For instance, in Texas motorists are supposed to drive on the right side of multiple lane roads unless passing, there is obstruction in the roadway or a few other exceptions.  If cited for not obeying this traffic law, it’s a Class C misdemeanor that has a fine starting at $200.

Even in states with “keep right” laws, it doesn’t mean that you can use the left lane to pass by going over the speed limit without consequences. 

Speeding ticket = higher rates

If you do get a speeding ticket for exceeding the speed limit to pass a truck, it could affect your car insurance rates. 

Your car insurance company is a business. It uses an algorithm that calculates your risk as a driver and will surcharge you for certain violations, including speeding.  Its rating system and surcharge schedule doesn’t care about your reason for speeding, just if you were convicted of the traffic offense.

One minor speeding ticket for speeding may be ignored by some insurers; two tickets or more shows a pattern of risky behavior and will definitely raise your rates. 

The good news is that not all car insurance companies rate the same way. So, while one may surcharge you 40 percent for two speeding tickets, another may surcharge only 20 percent.  This is why you need to compare car insurance rates at least once a year, and even sooner if your current insurer raises your rates for any reason.

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