Pedal to the metal in Texas

September 14, 2012 

Some people like to drive fast. Judging by the number of flashing lights on Washington State Patrol vehicles on any given morning, many of those people commute to or from Olympia.

Those folks might consider moving to Texas.

The Longhorn State will open a new 40-mile stretch of toll road in November with the fastest speed limit in the United States. Drivers traveling between Austin and San Antonio will be pushing the needle up to 85 mph.

Since the federal government returned speed limits back to state jurisdictions in 1995, the nation’s top speed limit has been increasing. The current record is held by Utah, and Texas, with roads posted at 80 mph.

Plenty of states already have 75 mph limits on rural interstates, such as Montana, Nebraska and the Dakotas. Even the famous German autobahns, which have no enforced speed limit, advise driving no faster than 130 kilometers per hour, or 81 mph.

During a gasoline shortage in the mid-1970s, the federal government imposed a 55 mph speed limit by withholding highway funds from states that allowed cars to travel faster. According to the Institute for Highway Safety, a 10-year study following the repeal of the national speed limit showed that highway deaths attributed to speed had increased.

But highway fatalities have taken a dramatic 25 percent drop since 2005. Have drivers become more capable of handling higher speeds, or have car manufacturers improved vehicle safety?

Perhaps a terrible recession and high gasoline prices have caused people to drive more slowly?

You wouldn’t know it driving the Olympia-Tacoma stretch of I-5 during the morning rush hour.

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