The 55-mph limit currently capping speeds along the top end of the perimeter will be raised to 65 mph starting in September, bringing the northern end’s speed limits in line with the southern end’s.
Karlene Barron, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said the change will coincide with the introduction of a new system of digital speed signs that will adjust speed limits as road conditions change.
“One of the things we’re doing is actually moving the speed limit up to coincide with the speed limit increase on (the) southern side of 285,” Barron explained, referencing GDOT’s decision last fall to increase the bottom portion of the interstate’s maximum speed to 65 mph.
Barron said this decision was made in large part to bring the law in line with realistic expectations of driver behavior.
“What we’ve seen so far is that basically, it’s in line with what people were already driving,” she said of last fall’s speed limit hike. “During the times that they can move faster, they’re going faster.”
The new crop of highway signs will project speed limits that should help drivers better respond to congestion or road incidents, Barron explained.
If, for example, an accident is causing blockage ahead of cruising cars on I-285, the signs will display a lower speed limit that will decrease in 10 mph increments as vehicles approach the gridlock, Barron said.
Variable speed limit signs will ease drivers down to speeds as low as 35 mph, Barron said, as they approach the source of congestion.
“Instead of people having to do a whole lot of stop and go, it will actually slow them down,” she explained.
The first system of its kind in Georgia, Barron said she hopes the signs will reduce the incidence of rear-end crashes, which are “prevalent” on I-285’s top side thanks to frequent congestion.
Beginning in July, GDOT will construct 176 such signs along the right shoulders and medians of the designated interstate strip, which will stretch from I-20 in Fulton County to I-20 in DeKalb.
The signs will remain covered throughout July when they are being installed; in August, GDOT will unveil their new system for a series of tests, Barron said.
September will see the implementation of both the variable speed limit sign system and the new maximum overall speed of 65 mph.
The elevated speed limit along parts of I-285 that brush Smyrna, among other parts of the county, could spell trouble for some motorists.
“Crashes would not be a factor were it not for speed,” said Sgt. Dana Pierce, Cobb police spokesman.
“Because you see an increase in speed, it decreases a person’s ability to react,” Pierce explained.
“People have less time to make decisions. So speed inherently is a factor when speed is increased in different traffic zones.”
In a perfect world, law-abiding drivers would simply enjoy a shorter commute when the speed limit was increased, Pierce said.
But many people put safety in the backseat when they get behind the wheel.
“Every day, while I’m driving my police cruiser, I see someone distracted looking at their communication devices while driving,” Pierce said.
He noted texting while driving was among the top offenses distracted motorists commit — one which puts drivers at an increased risk for accidents when they travel at faster speeds.
“Because we are human and people make errors,” Pierce explained, “an increased speed coupled with environmental conditions and with other drivers on the roadway, it can make for increased problems for the traveling public.”