Raise the speed limit

December 23, 1991

Everyone who has ever gotten behind the wheel in Maryland knows full well that the state's 55 mph speed limit isn't working. And Marina Sarris' story in Friday's Evening Sun, which describes I-97 between the Baltimore Beltway and U.S. 50 as "Maryland's autobahn," offers more evidence. Sarris reports that drivers routinely speed there, as they do on I-95 north of Baltimore and I-83 south of the Pennsylvania line.

Officials should have seen this coming. The 55 mph limit was mandated by Congress in the oil-squeezed '70s, when drivers were routinely hitting 65 or 70 mph on the interstates, and gas conservation was a key national goal. But when the fear of a Mideast stranglehold had faded, 55 had outlived its usefulness, and many states restored their pre-oil shock limits. Maryland was not among them. Nonetheless, there has been broad support here for raising the speed limit, and Marylanders make their voices heard every day by disobeying the law. But state officials are not responding. Last year when the General Assembly passed a bill raising the speed limit to 65, Governor Schaefer vetoed it, casting the issue in terms of safety rather than energy policy.

True, a crash at 55 mph does less damage than one at 65, but it's also true that driving at 35 mph would be safer still, and save more lives. No one would advocate a 35 mph limit, of course, but it illustrates just how arbitrary 55 is. Since the 55 mph limit was, at its inception, a federal mandate, federal action is needed now to restore the speed limit on interstate highways to 65 mph. That would address the considerable confusion of drivers who cross state lines, and -- more important -- add a little common sense to this otherwise willy-nilly approach to public policy.

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