December 8, 1995
Web posted at: 2:15 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Tony Clark
AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- New signs displaying speed limits of 70 and 75 miles per hour are going up on many interstate highways across the country Friday. After 21 years, the federally mandated 55 mph limit has been repealed.
That limit was adopted in 1974 to reduce gas consumption during the OPEC oil embargo and continued after studies showed it reduced highway deaths.
But critics claimed it was unnecessarily slow and is ignored by many motorists. The new law leaves it up to the states to decide their speed limits.
And while federal officials urged states to move slowly in changing their laws, three states raised the limit on Friday.
Montana is already being dubbed the "American Autobahn" because, with some exceptions, it is abolishing the daytime speed limit entirely. The rule of the road in the Big Sky state is to drive reasonably and prudently.
Beginning Friday, drivers in Nevada can hit 75 mph on rural stretches of interstate, while portions of I-40 and I-85 in North Carolina will have a new limit of 65 mph.
In all, 11 states are increasing or considering increasing the speed limit to 75 mph on some highways, while six others could go up to 70 mph. Few or no changes are planned in remaining states.
In some states, like Texas, motorists will see a mixture of highway speed limits.
"There are a lot of places in Texas, namely the use of I-35, where 55 is going to be the right speed and it will remain that speed," said Carlos Lopez of the Texas Department of Transportation. (122K AIFF sound or 122K WAV sound)
But the top speed of 70 miles per hour in Texas has highway troopers concerned.
"I think our job is going to be harder," said Trooper John Wise, "because I think at that speed, we're going to have an increase in injuries and fatalities out here."
Highway safety advocates agree, predicting an additional 6,400 deaths per year.
"Cars are made safer, but cars were not supposed to withstand impacts at 70 miles per hour," said Jerry Johns of the Southwest Insurance Information Service. "Roads are safer but roads won't handle speeds of 75 and 80 miles per hour."
But the limits are going up in many states. In those states, officials say it may take weeks to change all the signs. In the meantime, they say motorists must drive the posted speed limit.
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