Say 'No' to 65

March 30, 1992

Once again, highway speed devotees are desperately trying to raise the maximum speed limit on rural interstate roads in Maryland from 55 to 65 miles per hour. A similar measure earned a well-deserved veto last year. We hope this session's version doesn't get that far.

Hiking the speed limit to 65 on Maryland interstates makes no sense. These are hardly "rural" roads. Would you call traffic along I-83 north of Baltimore rural? The Kennedy Expressway north of Baltimore? Interstate 270 north of Gaithersburg? No, these are heavily traveled and often highly congested highways. The last thing we need on these roads is commuters being encouraged to press the gas pedal down to 65 or 75 or 85 mph.

The cost of a higher speed limit would be staggering. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculated that in just the first three years after Congress permitted states to sanction 65 mph on interstates, 1,400 fatalities were directly attributable to the higher speeds. There were more deaths on Maryland's rural highways before the 55 mph limit was imposed, too.

Opponents of the higher highway speed say that were this same pattern to reappear with the 65 mph limit, the cost to Maryland from the added accidents and fatalities would be $100 million a year. Higher Medicaid costs from more accident victims would rise. So would the severity of injuries.

A 65 mph speed limit for cars and trucks would waste fuel and deter energy conservation. Even more serious, it would encourage higher pollution levels. Some vehicles emit a third more nitrogen oxide into the air at 65 mph than at 55. For a state struggling desperately to meet Clean Air Act standards without shutting down factories, the last thing we need is more pollution from highway traffic.

Three weeks ago, the state legislature enacted and the governor signed into law a bill forcing motorcyclists to wear helmets to save lives and reduce medical costs. It would be counter-productive now to raise the speed limit on rural highways and drive up the number of auto accidents and emergency-room cases. The Senate ought to vote "no" to 65.

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