An Autobahn in America?

85 mph road sign

A number of years ago some discussion took place about going back to a nationwide 55-mph speed limit on American highways. The idea, of course, was to increase the number of miles travelled per gallon of gasoline while decreasing the amount of emissions from the country’s fleet of motorcars.

Obviously nothing ever came of that.

In contrast, speed limits keep increasing. I remember the days in Montana when no speed limit existed at all, other than a “safe and prudent” law that was open to interpretation. While we’re far from anything like that coming back, there’s news from Texas that new 85-mph speed limit signs are going up.

An interesting prelude, perhaps, to an eventual return to the era of no speed limits at all?

NBC News says,

Constructions crews on Wednesday began posting 85-mph speed limit signs along a pending section of toll road on Texas’ State Highway 130. This 41-mile stretch of highway, which will open for traffic by Nov. 11, is on the east side of Austin and heads southwest toward San Antonio.

That stretch of highway will then have the fastest legal speed limit in all of America. Certainly another point of pride for those big-lovin’ Texans. Since the 55-mph limit faded into oblivion, the majority of states have increased limits to 70 mph. I travelled a stretch of Interstate 15 in Utah that allowed 80 mph.

The speed increase certainly is fun, and it’s novel to see such big numbers on speed limit signs. While travel times will decrease slightly, there are some who say that increased speed limits have a direct correlation with increased traffic deaths. Others argue that higher limits decrease accidents, because traffic flows at a more natural rate.

As car technology gets better and vehicles are capable of higher speeds, it’s not unreasonable to think that somewhere in the U.S. someone will eventually propose a flat stretch of highway that shouldn’t have a speed limit. Considering the sad state of repair most sections of the American Interstate system are in, though, it might make more sense to keep limits low and spend money enforcing them.

Should the speed limits on American highways keep getting higher?


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  1. One should also consider that heavy trucks would not be allowed on such roads. (they will anyway) A good compromise would be special licenses and insurance for those willing to drive these faster speeds. The special license would require high speed and vehicle handling training, similar to what had to pass to drive test vehicles at manufacturer proving grounds. I’d also add in a yearly inspection of the vehicle being used. Hey, we require folks who want to carry a pistol to have training. A 5000 pound truck going 85 MPH is a potentially far more lethal weapon than a pistol.

  2. Faster cars, slower reactions! Good call! Just because a road is long and straight doesn’t mean there aren’t dangers. Plus people tend to think they can go 5 to 10 over the limit so 85 can be 95 really quick!

  3. Jim, I can tell you haven’t done much driving in Texas. Long, flat, straight roads that seem to go on forever. Unfortunately, when the speed limits go up (anywhere),so do fatalities. Apparently in Texas, where life is cheap (they execute more criminals than anywhere else) convenience trumps safety. Head on with a Hummer, anyone?

  4. Cars get faster, but human reactions just get slower. Especially with all the texting and other in-car distractions. higher speeds are good for travel times, not good for travel safety. I think 70 is perfectly reasonable.

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