Increasing Maxium Speed Limit Bad Move

You gotta drive 75 – or less.

State Department of Transportation officials in Texas recently announced that they plan to suggest increasing the maximum speed limit on parts of Interstates 10 and Interstate 20 from 75 mph to 80 mph in 10 West Texas counties.

Just last year, the state Legislature passed language that enabled motorists to drive 75 mph on those highways. On a federal level, it has been more than 55 mph since the mid 1990s.

Things have continued to change in that regard during the course of the last 25-30 years.

I remember the dashboard in my parents’ maroon and orange mid-1980s Chevrolet Chevette had a noticeable number in its circular casing. The numeral was a light orange and it was vastly over sized compared to the others.

It read, 55 mph. And the tiny economy car was not unique – not by a long shot.

Carter-era automobiles were characteristically manufactured with with a dashboard containing speedometer gages sought to remind motorists of the national maximum speed limit.

During the Carter administration, and certainly during the ensuing Reagan years, there were primarily two focal points in terms of motor vehicle use – fuel economy and, with it, safety.

America was plagued with damaging fuel costs, and it included gasoline.

“By the mid-1980s, rational consumer reaction to high prices – home insulation, fuel-efficient appliances and lighter cars – had actually solved the energy crisis. We had OPEC on the run. In July 1986, oil plunged to $7 a barrel,” as explained in a New York Daily News article dated May 2004.

Just consider the problems with crude oil flirting around (and more than at times) the $70 per barrel mark. Gasoline prices have shot through the roof (between $2.85 to $2.90 for unleaded grade as of the week of May 21). The trend has been headed in that direction last couple of years and, significantly so, in the last year. One year ago, the national average was $2.11.

According to, the average price for a gallon of low grade gasoline was $2.77 per gallon in Texas.

And the U.S. Department of Energy has said that gas mileage decreases considerably at more than 60 mph. Can you afford that? As Americans with drastically increased fuel costs afford that?

Such a move “will have a perverse reaction,” said Peter Iwanowicz, director of environmental health at American Lung Association. “Increasing the speed limit will increase fuel use.”

It would be an irresponsible move to increase the maximum speed limit to 80 mph on those West Texas county interstates.

Texas Department of Transportation recently said that the intention is to make the state’s interstate highway system safer by lawmakers successfully increasing the speed limit to 80 mph.

Safer. How, we ask?

Theoretically, motorists would be traveling at a more uniform speed, he said.

Again, how?

So, does that mean that motorists for some reason do not drive with more caution and regard for others when they drive into the western sunset at, say, 65 mph. So instead of motoring their 3,000-pound vehicles at 75 mph, they’ll be doing so at 80 – good thinking.

Of course not. The argument is senseless.

“Uh oh, I better drive the right way now that the 18-wheeler beside of me is probably doing the same.”

Motorists, Texas residents and otherwise, will undoubtedly drive their cars, trucks, SUVs and recreational vehicles in the same manner that they have been accustomed. They will not change their habits, good or bad, simply because the Lone Star State decided to increase the legal speed limit from 75 mph.

Some officials continue to use a logic that I fear will potentially endanger motorists.

Carlos Lopez is the director of traffic operations for the transportation department in Texas. He told the Associated Press recently that a survey of both Interstate 10 and Interstate 20 showed that 85 percent of drivers already speed to 79 mph.

In essence, he is leaving the people to decide when to let up on the pedal:

“If people begin to think that the number on the sign is unreasonable, then they won’t respect it,” Lopez said. “Just putting a lower number on the highway isn’t going to slow down traffic.”

Perhaps, after all, he his right.

But, putting a sign along the highway will push people to think – think about increasing costs of a ticket, for insurance premiums should they opt to break the speed limit whether it be 55 mph or the proposed 80 mph.

I know that there are many among the masses who contend that the stretch of highway in question if long, straight and boring, and can be navigated safely. Rather, unnecessary risks will be taken in increased measure because of it.

Increasing the maximum speed limit would be a careless decision, both economically and from a safety standpoint.

After all, in 1998 with fewer motorists using the interstate system than there is today, there were 3,576 traffic deaths in Texas alone – an increase of 1.9 percent over figures registered in 1997, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The powers that be should think long and hard about what changing the laws could mean in the very near future.

Were lawmakers 25 years ago wrong when they successfully enacted legislation that required motorists to limit their speed to 55 mph or fewer?

They had their reasons, didn’t they?

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