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Highway bill could raise interstate speed limits

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November 25, 1995
Web posted at: 1:30 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Louise Schiavone

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress is awaiting the president's signature on a highway bill which, in part, would lift some well-known federally-mandated safety regulations.

Next year at this time, Thanksgiving travelers could be coping with not only the busiest but also the fastest highways since the 1970s.

The bill would remove the federal government from some big safety decisions, including the establishment of highway speed limits and mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists.

In Texas, one commuter offered the type of support for such changes that can be found in many places nationwide. "I travel the highway every day between Greenville and Dallas. Sometimes I need a little bit more speed to get to work on time," she said.

"I think that would be OK, as long as they don't raise it too high. Seventy miles an hour would be a maximum I would think for safety reasons," another commuter said.

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As a result of new authority granted in a $6.5 billion highway bill, more than half of the states are expected to raise speed limits. Montana is ready to abolish them altogether.

The measure primarily funds construction and maintenance for the nation's most important highways. It also gives states more control over the construction of billboards on roads currently designated "scenic highways."

According to federal statistics, 41,000 people are killed every year on the nation's highways. Officials warn higher speed limits would mean 6,000 more fatalities.

A coalition of safety, insurance and health groups is pressing the president to veto the bill.

"As it stands now, for every dollar in this bill to improve roadways, we're going to spend three dollars cleaning up the broken bodies and the broken lives that are going to result from it," said Judy Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

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"It's a tragic situation when people have accidents and they get injured. But I don't think we can take all risks out of life," said Wayne Curtin, vice president of the Motorcycle Riders Foundation of America.

Dr. Arthur Trask, a Virginia trauma surgeon at Fairfax Hospital, knows that well, but he says some risks are not worth taking. "We see a lot of speed-related accidents and most of the time there is either some injury to the brain or the spinal cord," he said.

Congress did order states to crack down on drunken driving, making a blood-alcohol level of .02 percent the limit for drivers under age 21.

The president is anxious to release billions of dollars in highway funds to the states, but the speed limit controversy has put the brakes on the administration's enthusiasm for the bill.



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