Does 55 mpg need to be enforced any longer, especially when gas mileage at this speed has been improving over the years? The National Maximum Speed Law (NMSL) setting a federal speed limit of 55 mph was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1974 to reduce domestic gasoline consumption and thus reduce oil prices in response to the 1973 oil crisis, which temporarily raised oil prices considerably. The oil crisis eventually abated, and much later in 1995 the NMSL was repealed. State speed limits soon went up, but speed limits today are on average lower than they were back in 1974, partially due to ongoing concerns regarding fuel economy and its impact on the larger economy as well as on the environment.
Reasons for the 55 Mph Speed Limit
Higher gasoline consumption means higher gasoline demand, which raises gasoline prices and thus oil prices as well. High oil prices slow down the economy as a whole. Higher gasoline consumption also increases the sort of air pollution that causes and exacerbates health problems on a local level as well as increasing greenhouse gas emissions that worsen climate change on a global level. Other reasons for lower speed limits are safety, changes in residential density and the concerns of the residents of areas traversed by roads. Where speed limits are still 55 mph, they are now set and enforced by state and local authorities
The 55 Mph Speed Limit Today
Presently, we are again experiencing a time of high oil prices and thus high gasoline prices, and these prices can be chaotic due to ongoing events in the Middle East and elsewhere. Fuel economy is thus more of a concern now than it was in the 1990s when the NMSL was repealed. So, should speed limits set for fuel economy reasons still be enforced, and should some speed limits perhaps even be lowered to improve fuel economy further? The answer to that question is that it’s being studied, but it’s still too early to tell.
65 Mph and Higher?
However, recent studies are pointing in the direction that improvements in fuel economy due to recent technological innovations in automobile engineering demonstrate that 65 mph is a more reasonable speed for the fuel economy of newer cars. This indicates that soon 65 mph will be a more reasonable speed limit for fuel economy purposes as older cars are replaced by newer cars on America’s roads. This new speed limit will probably also rise further in the years ahead as technological innovations in fuel economy continue to mount.
Additionally: possibilities for vehicles that are powered by technologies like fuel cells instead of gasoline and that are driven far more efficiently by automated systems are becoming more and more serious – and the realization of either or both of these technologies would increase fuel economy dramatically – which in turn could cause a dramatic increase in speed limits. Of course, another oil crisis might be necessary to generate the demand for these dramatic increases.
The National Maximum Speed Law (NMSL), setting maximum speed limits of 55 mph nationwide, was passed by the federal government of the United States in 1974. It was originally intended to reduce domestic demand for gasoline and thus lower oil prices in response to the reduced oil supply resulting from the 1973 oil crisis. After oil prices normalized once the oil crisis was over, the NMSL was retained due to the belief at the time that a national speed limit of 55 mph increased road safety. However, this law was never especially popular both with motorists and with the state and local authorities tasked with enforcing it and further safety studies found that the safety and slower speeds relationship was inconclusive.
Repeal of the NMSL
Thus, the NMSL was repealed in 1995, which handed maximum speed limit setting authority back to the states. All states soon raised their maximum speed limits above 55 mph, but on average state maximum speed limits are still lower today than they were in 1974. States now also set widely varying speed limits on different roads within each state, so many states have some roads that still have a 55 mph maximum speed limit. So, does 55 mpg need to be enforced any longer for safety reasons? This is no longer the wide-ranging issue that it was before 1995, but there are still plenty of roads with 55 mph speed limits scattered around the country.
State and Local Oversight of Speed Limits
Roads have different speed limits because road conditions vary widely. State and local authorities set speed limits in an attempt to balance the safety, travel time and traffic density experienced by motorists as well as the enforcement costs for governments and the concerns of people living in the communities that roads pass through. These balances vary for different types of roads, from residential streets to interstate highways. These balances also change over time, so periodic reviews and changes of speed limits are also undertaken by the relevant authorities. Potential changes include increases in residential density that force speed limits down, law enforcement innovations that allow lawmakers to set lower speed limits and also increases in the technology of automobile safety that allow speed limits to rise.
Your State and Local Speed Limits
The answer to the question “does 55 mpg need to be enforced any longer” is, thus, generally: yes it does in the areas where road conditions warrant a 55 mph speed limit. Of course, governments can be slow in recognizing when a change in speed limit is warranted, so if you think the speed limit should be changed in the area you live or drive frequently in, contact the relevant authorities yourself and lobby them on the issue. Governments do take citizen input into account when making speed limit setting decisions and they especially listen to vocal citizen’s groups on the matter, so you may wish to join or create such a citizen’s group yourself if you care about this issue.