Civil obedience

October 01, 1991

Eighteen years after the OPEC stranglehold that caused fears of a worldwide gas shortage and forced the United States to adopt an energy-saving 55 mph speed limit, Marylanders are still expected to poke along at 55. There is no oil shortage, of course, nor any prospect of one. And today's cars are twice as fuel efficient as their 1973 counterparts. The safety argument has hit the skids as well: Interstate and rural federal highways were, after all, built for speeds of 65 and 70.

So what keeps the state entrenched in the policies of oil-shortage paranoia? Probably money. By making violators of people who otherwise are driving safely, not only does the state reap great fiscal rewards, but so do the insurance companies -- which often charge higher rates to policyholders with speeding violations -- and the manufacturers of radar detectors, who make one gadget for motorists and another, more expense device for police.

Last weekend, to demonstrate their opposition to the law, a group of Marylanders staged an act of "civil obedience." They drove 55 (slower when signs designated it) from interstates 95 and 495 all the way to the Delaware line. Had it not been for the protesters' decision to keep the left lane clear for other drivers, they would certainly have impeded traffic. But the creeping caravan, which was trying to persuade Governor Schaefer to sign a bill this session to raise the speed limit, drove its point home: Maryland's 55 mph speed limit is "ridiculous;" it's time to raise it.


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