- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Before 1973, a number of states had maximum speed limits of 70 or even 75 mph on their highways. Then, in 1973, the federal government approved the Emergency Highway Conservation Act, as a result of the energy crisis gripping the nation. The national maximum speed limit was reset to 55 mph on interstates. It wasn’t until November 1995 that the federal government, via the National Highway System Designation Act, returned authority over speed limits to the states.
Today, the maximum speed limits vary from state to state — from a low of 60 mph in Hawaii to a high of 85 mph in a small section of Texas. Most states out West have adopted a maximum speed limit of 75 mph. Maryland joins a handful of states in the Northeast and Midwest, along with Oregon, toward the maximum’s low end — 65 mph. Then, there’s the relatively new Intercounty Connector, which currently runs from Interstate 270 in Montgomery County to Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County (with plans to stretch to Route 1). It sported a Neanderthal speed limit of 55 mph, until Maryland Transportation Authority officials announced Monday that the speed limit would be raised to 60 mph.
Now, HB 223, with sponsors from all parts of the state, is calling for a maximum allowable highway speed limit in Maryland of 70 mph. The speed limit on the ICC would go up 10 mph. A hearing on the bill was scheduled Tuesday.
Sen. Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery) did have separate emergency legislation in the hopper that would have raised the ICC’s speed limit to 60 mph. A hearing on that bill had been scheduled for Feb. 7,but the state announced this week that it had needed a year of operations on the roadway to conclude that raising the speed limit was safe and prudent. The new speed limit on the ICC should be effective by March 31.
Two chief sponsors of the House bill, Dels. Aruna Miller (D-Montgomery) and Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), held a news conference Thursday to spell out their case for the higher statewide speed limit. Besides their bipartisan collaboration, what’s of particular note is that they’re both transportation engineers.
Understandably, fatalities and the severity of injuries tend to rise when accidents occur at higher speeds, but a 5-mph increase in the speed limit doesn’t typically result in a significant change in driving speeds, according to some studies. And, safety should improve with more motorists driving at similar speeds. Also, past concerns about fuel consumption are less of a concern nowadays with more fuel-efficient vehicles.
AAA Mid-Atlantic won’t be taking a position on the bill, but when maximum speed limits are appropriately applied, they improve motorists’ mobility, safety and respect for the law, spokeswoman Ragina Averella said.
A rise in the overall highway limit to 70 mph — the speed at which many drivers seem comfortable these days — deserves serious consideration. But drivers should keep in mind that the new speed limit would only be applicable on one or two roads in the state.