Should We Bring Back the National 55 MPH Speed Limit?

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55 mph speed limit

Wired’s Autotopia blog ask its readers an interesting question; the question being “Is It Time To Drive 55 Again?” It’s an intriguing question indeed as gasoline prices continue to soar past $4.00 a gallon, air pollution continues to rise, and our little ol’ blue planet slowly starts to warm up. Taking all these factors into consideration, is it time to bring back the national 55 mph speed limit?

As a response to the oil crisis of the ’70s, Congress and President Nixon imposed a nationwide 55 mph speed limit in order to conserve energy. However, since 1993, the law has been repealed allowing states, once again, to set legal speed limits. Though the today’s oil “crisis” is not as bad as the ’70s rationing system — at least not yet — it is interesting to see a national speed limit debate resurface.

Regardless of whether or not a national speed limit law is passed, it is still good practice to drive at a speed that is still safe yet not excessively fast. Start using the slower right lanes in traffic and plan accordingly — whether it be waking up earlier — in anticipation for a longer commute. Doing so will not only help out your wallet at the pump, but it will also reduce the impact on the environment by lowering emissions.


Written by AJ Papa

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About John Tarantino (325 Posts)

My name is John Tarantino ... and no, I am not related to Quinton Tarantino the movie director. I love writing about the environment, traveling, and capturing the world with my Lens as an amateur photographer. You can connect with me via Google+ or via Twitter: Follow @EnvironmentBlog

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7 Comments on “Should We Bring Back the National 55 MPH Speed Limit?

  1. One of the few times I'll agree w/ Schwarzenegger is when it comes to efficient sports cars, or even electric hummers. Not that I would ever own one, but I think for the environmental movement to be successful it needs to embrace a healthy dose of realism. In this vein, I think a 55 mph speed limit is probably a bad idea. It makes people bitter and resentful of yes the shortage, but also of these type of public interest laws in general. The better route is subsidizing a conversion of the American auto fleet to more efficient and/or more electric one and encouraging public transportation and density. Incentives will always work better than restrictions.Just my .02.

  2. I think it is difficult enough getting people to obey the speed limit already. Lowering it isn't going to help.

  3. Very few people drove 55 when it was posted back in the '70s. I really don't see how they think it will help now. Not only that, but here in Oregon, the maximum Interstate speed limit is still 65; the lowest limit west of the Mississippi River. The only politicians who support this are those who don't actually drive or drive long distances. Why don't they do something useful to help the oil crunch?

  4. 55MPH will be very detrimental to the economy. Yes, many vehicles do get up to 27% better gas mileage at 55 MPH as compared to 75 MPH. However you are also driving 28% slower at 55 MPH. A 100 mile trip takes all most 30 minutes longer at 55MPH as compared to 75MPH. The added labor costs to business paying for employees being on the road 28% longer is far above the savings in gas. That added expense will ultimately result in increased prices of all goods and services.For the sake of discussion, let's use the your math for the 100 mile trip: A car that gets 25 MPG would get 31.75 MPG at 55 MPH (27%) – Gas at $4.00 per gallon – Employee labor cost of $15 per hour.Driving at 75MPH will take 80 minutes and cost a total of $36.00 in gas and labor costs( use 4 gallons of gas at a cost of $16.00 and the labor cost would be $20 (1.3 hours x $15/hour))Driving at 55MPH will take over 109 minutes and cost a total of $39.87 in gas and labor costs( use 3.15 gallons of gas at a cost of $12.60 and the labor cost would be $27.27 (1.8 hours x $15/hour))THAT’S AN 11% INCREASE IN COSTS BY SLOWING DOWN TO 55MPH. The burden labor rate for many service industries is actually $25 to $ 35 and more and therefore the problem is even worse.The saving lives argument has also be very exaggerated. The chances of being involved in an accident on the highway increase the longer you are actually exposed to the risk. In other words, if you are on the highway an additional 30 minutes per day, your exposure to potential risk has been increase 30 more minutes. Being on the road longer also greatly increases driver fatigue. Driving while sleepy is as dangerous as driving drunk.The claims that the National Highway death toll went down around 1974 due to the 55 MPH limit imposed after the 1973 Oil crisis has often been disputed. It has been suggested that this drop was actually due to new enforcement of seat belt laws and people driving less because of high gas prices.As a business owner of a service industry, the interference by the Federal Government to make me inefficient will cost me thousands of dollars. Those who want to drive at 55 are more than welcome to drive 55. Just don't make everyone else along with the economy slow down with you!

  5. I think Dave's comment above is a perfect example of myopically universalizing one's own point of view. His calculations hold true only if you assume 100% of highway drivers are on the clock 100% of the time. This is obviously wrong. You don't need to be a genius to realize that a vast number of drivers are doing so on their time, not their employers' – commuters, tourists, people traveling to visit relatives, etc. It's also untrue to state that lowering the speed limit would slow down the economy. A small drop in the demand for oil would have a significant downward effect on its price, _boosting_ the economy as dollars that would have gone into our tanks go instead into demanding more goods and services. The "voluntary" approach never works – just see how long those highways we use would last if paying our taxes was voluntary.

  6. One of the biggest griefs when dealing with this issue is the lack of knowledge people have about how cars and trucks operate. The second is that the actual percentage of roads over the 55 limit is very low. You do most of your driving on low speed streets, and the rest is often at lower speeds due to congestion.On the highway most diesel work trucks do better at around 63 MPH, we, yes I own one, watch the tachometer not the speed. Optimal mileage is achieved at below 2000 RPMs.Most modern cars now have 4 speed transmissions or better, and less drag than 70s autos. Yet, I hear the same lame tactics as I heard in the 70s. I even heard the air-conditioner off one. Yeah, roll the windows down and create more drag.Look, keep your car tuned. Learn what that make and models optimum shift points are. Find a way to work that doesn't involve parking and idling. Here's one Chevron isn't making commercials on…take the bus, carpool, bike if you can.When I was young, we owned ONE car, it was used when we went out of town or on Sunday…because the freakin buses didn't run. Riding in the car used to be a treat, and yes, my father bought the nicest car he could afford, and the dang thing had better work right.With that said…seen many Yugos driving around?

  7. Interesting. I haven't thought of speeding as a problem for the environment. Good gut check.

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