Speedy Veto in Order

May 20, 1991

It is not even a close call. Gov. William Donald Schaefer shouldn't lose any sleep over the issue of increasing the maximum speed permitted on Maryland's "rural" interstates. The bill on his desk richly deserves a gubernatorial veto, the same treatment it received last time.

The governor has scheduled a hearing tomorrow so representatives of both sides can discuss raising the speed limit from 55 mph to 65. He won't learn anything new. Statistics clearly demonstrate that a higher speed limit leads to more deaths. In 1989, highway deaths increased four times faster in states with 65 mph limits. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 1987 and 1988, the higher speed limit caused 650 more deaths. Two studies in Michigan hTC showed that serious injuries rose 40 percent and moderate injuries 25 percent after the speed limit was raised to 65 on rural interstates in that state.

There is no scientific question that it takes a far greater distance to stop a vehicle traveling at 65 mph than at 55 mph. Drivers have much less time to perceive and react to trouble ahead. And, according to the laws of physics, that extra 10 miles an hour doubles the likelihood of death or injury because the force of the impact is so much greater.

Many of the 250 miles of federal roads in Maryland that would be eligible for the higher speed limit are hardly "rural" (I-83 north of Baltimore, I-95 north of Baltimore, I-70 north of Rockville). They are the main high-speed highways for suburban Baltimore and Washington commuters and are often bumper-to-bumper for miles on end when accidents create huge backups. Think what these roads will be like when commuters are rushing home or to work at 65 or 75 or even 85 mph.

A lower speed limit also saves valuable gasoline -- 15 percent, according to a consumers magazine. There also is little doubt that the higher speeds will lead to higher insurance costs as the number and severity of crashes increases.

It is unfortunate that a major insurance company decided to launch a massive lobbying campaign to pressure the governor into vetoing this bill. We don't think that is necessary -- or wise. Mr. Schaefer fully understands the dangers of high-speed travel. He decided a year ago that a 65 mph limit would put Marylanders at risk on the interstates. Nothing has changed since then. The governor should act to protect the public's interests by promoting highway safety. He can do that by vetoing this bill.

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