Baby Boomers will remember a time when the speed limits on our nation’s highways were significantly higher than they are today. Of course, there were fewer cars on the roads back then and, consequently, fewer roads. Cars in the sixties and early seventies offered few, if any, safety precautions other than a lap belt and a lock on the door. Motorists would fly down the interstates, windows open, at speeds upward of seventy-five miles per hour.
In 1973, in response to an emerging oil crisis, President Richard Nixon proposed legislature that would lower maximum speed limits nationwide. It was thought that, by lowering the speeds at which the nation’s cars travelled they would become more fuel-efficient. In January of 1974, President Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. The new law required speed limits on all four-lane divided highways to be fifty-five miles per hour and the maximum speed limit on all other roads to be the same. At the time, many states had already lowered speed limits in advance of the federal requirement.
Boomers might also remember that, in September of 1979, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration required that speedometer have special emphasis on the number 55 and a maximum speed of 85 miles per hour. This requirement was soon abandoned as it yielded virtually no safety benefits.
For a period of time after the lower speed limits became the law of the land, there were fewer highway fatalities. But, was the nation conserving oil? Perhaps not.
In 1987, Congress quietly allowed certain non-Interstate rural roads to have higher speed limits and in 1995 lifted all federal speed limit controls and returned the authority to the states.
A stretch of Texas highway may soon be the first road in the country to have a posted 85 mph speed limit. Part of a toll road being built between Austin and San Antonio will be tested to see if motorists can safely drive at eighty-five miles per hour. Indications are that this would be the second-highest posted speed limit in the world. Officials hope that the faster toll road will help to relieve one of the country’s most congested interstate areas.
I recently drove through Texas and I know first-hand that Texans already drive that fast on the highways. Also in Arkansas and, I imagine, just about everywhere. I think it’s about time, too, that officials address these outdated limits. The cars on today’s roads are far superior to those in production when the federal limits were lowered, they are significantly more fuel-efficient and, overall, considerably safer to operate.
Hopefully, the speed limits across the nation will soon catch up with the drivers.
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