October 6, 1995
Web posted at : 4:00 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent John Holliman
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress is cruising toward repeal of federal speed limits, convinced that states -- and not Washington -- should set maximum speeds on all roads.
Nowhere in the U.S. can a driver top 65 miles per hour, but that will change if Congress drops its own limit, currently 65 mph on rural stretches of road and 55 mph in urban areas. Preparing for Congressional action, Wyoming has already passed a law setting the interstate limit at 75 mph, with the limit on other highways 65 mph.
And some western interstates could become like Germany's famed Autobahn, with no speed limit at all. That prospect frightens many. Forty thousand people die on the road every year -- more than 12,000 of those deaths are speed-related.
"We know that higher speeds will mean more deaths and more injuries on our nation's roadways," said Jane Roemer of the National Safety Council.
But not everyone agrees. "What's vital on safety on the highways is the appropriate speed, okay, and that's not necessarily a lower speed or a higher speed than any fixed number," said Charles Terlizzi of the National Motorists Association. "It's the prevailing speed of traffic." (264K AIFF sound or 264K WAV sound)
The U.S. Transportation Department predicts 5,000 more will die each year if Congress does repeal federal speed limits. Recent safety improvements, like airbags and extra padding, will have little effect.
But in Maryland, where the speed limit was raised to 65 mph on rural interstates three months ago, officials say there has been no increase in accidents or deaths so far.
"Reckless drivers, negligent drivers, failing to pay full and proper attention to their driving," said Lt. Greg Shipley of the Maryland State Police. "Those were the incidents that were driving fatality rates."
The general public, and the experts, will continue to debate the issue, most likely long after Congress makes a final decision -- almost certainly to be against the federal limits.
Congress still has one tangle left to work out -- whether trucks and buses must still retain the lower limits.
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