Speed protest pushes drivers to limit Group's trek on I-95 at 55 mph raises ire

September 30, 1991|By Brian Sullam

Charles Terlizzi and about 15 about of his friends decided to take a Sunday afternoon drive yesterday along Interstate 95, and hundreds of other motorists wished they had stayed home.

It is not that Mr. Terlizzi, who heads the Maryland Chapter of the National Motorists Association, and his friends drove like maniacs or ran people off the road -- they just slowed down traffic on the East Coast's major north-south interstate by scrupulously adhering to the posted speed limit as they drove from the Capital Beltway to the Delaware line.

They wanted to prove the point that the current 55 mph speed limit is "impractical, unrealistic and unfair," according to Sam Brown, another chapter member.

Only seven states -- Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island -- have maintained the 55 mph limit that was imposed during the nation's energy crisis in the late 1970s, according to the NMA.

During the last session of the General Assembly, the organization successfully promoted passage of a bill raising the speed limit on Maryland's interstate highways to 65.

But Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has long opposed a higher speed limit, vetoed the measure after conducting his own hearing on the issue.

NMA members still smart over its defeat.

"If everybody who regularly drives over 55 mph voted against Governor Schaefer in the last election, he would be retired and sitting on the beach in Ocean City," said Richard Wojciechowicz, a professor at Prince George's Community College.

To demonstrate that most drivers flout the speed limit, the NMA has decided to hold monthly protests on the state's highways until the General Assembly convenes in January. Their form of protest will be to obey the speed limit on their drives.

"Eighty-five percent of the people driving are going faster than the speed limit," Mr. Brown said. "Just wait until we are on the road, and you see how many people pass us."

Within minutes of leaving a park-and-ride lot at the Capital Beltway about 12:25 p.m., trucks and motorists began to tailgate the group's 11-car caravan.

The protesters drove in tandem or single file, depending on the number of traffic lanes, keeping only the left lane open to allow speeders to pass -- and thereby make their point.

On the sides of their cars, the NMA members posted hand-lettered signs telling people to call Governor Schaefer if they were unhappy with the speed limit or the slowed-down traffic.

One of the cars had a low-powered FM transmitter, broadcasting a short recording explaining the protest.

State troopers were noticeably absent. One trooper drove up to the group before they departed on the pre-publicized drive, and said that as long as they obeyed the traffic laws there would be no trouble.

On the road, some motorists appeared to get impatient and began to jockey for the open left lane.

A couple of large trucks and a bus bore down on the caravan, approaching within less than a car-length of the last car in line.

"I wouldn't dare to drive 55 mph on the nation's highways unless I had a few buddies doing it with me," said Douglas Humphrey, a member of the group.

"It is too dangerous to obey the speed limit."

Most people speeding by, if they reacted at all, gave the law-abiding protesters a thumbs-up signal. Only one man, driving a dark Lexus, saluted them with his middle finger as he accelerated past them.

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