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Scratch the Utah Highway Patrol off any list of groups opposing raising the speed limit on Utah's urban interstate freeways from 65 to 70 mph.

It had criticized that move to news media on Friday after the Utah Department of Transportation announced the plan, but backed off on Monday.

"UDOT sets the speed limits, and we enforce them. That's where we will leave it," said Sgt. Todd Royce, spokesman for the Utah Highway Patrol.

Why the change over the weekend?

Royce said HB80 passed by the Legislature this year gave UDOT permission to conduct studies on speed and other engineering factors to determine where it would be safe to raise speed limits. He says UHP recognizes that UDOT has performed those studies, has expertise to do them, and will enforce what is set.

But last Friday, some television stations quoted Royce saying the Highway Patrol opposed the increase because road fatalities have increased dramatically this year — so it is unwise to raise speed limits in that situation.

But UDOT argues that most of the increases in fatalities this year are not because of speed, but because of increased deaths among motorcyclists and pedestrians.

At a meeting with the Utah Transportation Commission on Friday, UDOT reported that through the end of October, Utah had 218 highway deaths — an increase of 32, or 17 percent, compared to the same period a year earlier.

But pedestrian deaths are up by 14, motorcyclist deaths are up by 12, and bicyclist deaths were up by two in that period. That accounts for all but four of the increased highway deaths.

Jason Davis, UDOT chief of operations, told the Transportation Commission that to help decrease fatalities, UDOT may support a bill to encourage helmet use by motorcyclists — and it plans to support legislation to make not wearing a seat belt a "primary offense."

Currently, that is a secondary offense, meaning police must pull over a driver for some other violation before it can write a ticket for not wearing a seat belt.

Davis said Friday that UDOT found in studies of speed on urban interstates that most drivers already are traveling faster than 70 mph.

"We're not changing the speed of the driver. We're changing the posted speed limit," Davis said. "We're just bringing the speed limit into compliance with what they are already doing.

He said UDOT figures raising the speed limit a bit may make for a smoother flow by allowing those who stick rigidly to 65 mph now to go a bit faster to match other traffic. He said most problems come from cars that greatly exceed the speed of others, or drive far more slowly.

UDOT is currently taking comment from local cities and counties about the plan to raise the speed limit with expectations the change would kick in in mid-to-late December.

UDOT is proposing to leave the speed limit at 65 in two spots: on Interstate 80 east of 1300 East to Parleys Canyon in Salt Lake County because traffic there now averages less than 70 mph; and on I-80 just west of the Interstate 15 interchange because of a sharp curve there.