HELENA — Starting Oct. 1, Montana drivers will have an 80 mph speed limit on Interstate highways in the state, as Gov. Steve Bullock has signed into a law a bill increasing the limit from 75 mph.
Drivers also will be subject to higher fines if they violate the highway speed limit, on both the interstate and other highways in the state.
Bullock signed Senate Bill 375 on Monday. Montana will join Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota and Utah as states that have adopted an 80 mph speed limit on interstate highways.
The head of the Montana Highway Patrol, Col. Tom Butler, said Tuesday he doubts the higher limit will change how the patrol enforces the speed limit. The circumstances of a traffic stop are left to the judgment of individual officers, he said.
“(Traffic stops) all have their own unique set of circumstances,” he said. “I’m very leery to change how we’ve operated in the past just because we have a new speed limit. … I think we do a pretty good job in treating each stop on an individual basis.”
When asked whether an 80 mph limit means a person could drive 85 mph without getting stopped, Butler said: “The sign says 80 miles per hour.”
But those signs won’t be up until Oct. 1, when the new law takes effect. Also, the 80 mph limit won’t be on every stretch of interstate highway in Montana.
The bill leaves it at 65 mph through urban areas of more than 50,000 people, such as Missoula and Billings. The speed limit will remain at 70 mph on two-lane highways.
The state Transportation Commission also will decide which stretches of interstate highway may be set at 75 mph, instead of 80 mph, such as mountain passes or narrow canyons.
The bill directs the state Transportation Department to analyze which sections of the interstate system might warrant a lower speed limit, and report to the commission, which will decide whether to set the limit at 75 mph in those sections.
Department spokeswoman Lori Ryan said Tuesday the agency will submit its report to the commission before Oct. 1. The department plans to have new speed-limit signs on the interstate by the Oct. 1 effective date of the law, she said.
On the interstate, fines will increase from $20 to $40 for speeding up to 10 mph over the limit, but will remain at $20 on two-lane highways for the same infraction.
Fines will increase on all highways from $40 to $70 for 11-20 mph over the limit; from $70 to $120 for 21-30 mph over the limit; and from $100 to $200 if you’re caught going more than 31 mph over the limit.