Return Of The Double Nickel?

This is something I never thought I would see again, the old National Maximum Speed Limit. Senator John Warner (R-VA) has suggested bringing back the maximum speed limit in an effort to reduce gasoline consumption.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to look into what speed limit would provide optimum gasoline efficiency given current technology. He said he wants to know if the administration might support efforts in Congress to require a lower speed limit.

Congress in 1974 set a national 55 mph speed limit because of energy shortages caused by the Arab oil embargo. The speed limit was repealed in 1995 when crude oil dipped to $17 a barrel and gasoline cost $1.10 a gallon.

Warner cited studies that showed the 55 mph speed limit saved 167,000 barrels of oil a day, or 2 percent of the country's highway fuel consumption, while avoiding up to 4,000 traffic deaths a year.

I recall some of those studies, and most were discredited when all of the gathered data was analyzed. The so-called savings were not due to people driving slower, but by people cutting back on the amount of driving they were doing. Less driving equates to less fuel being used, just as is happening today. There's no need to re-impose the NMSL, one of the most ignored and hated laws since Prohibition. It will do very little to save gas and will serve only to increase state and county coffers as the Revenue Enhancement Squads (also called such things like State Police, County Sheriff, local Police Departments, etc) will once again have an artificially low speed limit as a means to generate revenue.

I'm surprised Warner repeated the old canard “55 Saves Lives”, a statistic manipulated by what has become to be called the “Safety Nazis” and the “Anti-Destination League”.

While the NMSL was originally enacted as a temporary measure during the Arab Oil Embargo, it was made permanent when the Safety Nazis and ADL pointed out the number of traffic fatalities also fell. What they hid from the lawmakers was the fatality rate, the number of traffic deaths per millions of passenger miles traveled, also declined, just as it had been since 1926. If you looked at a graph covering from 1926 to 2003, you would not be able to pick out the period when the hated Double Nickel was in force. The downward graph shows the normal year to year variations, but the trend has always been down. Even when the control of speed limits was returned to the states in 1995 and speed limits were raised to 65, 70, 75MPH or higher, the fatality rate continued its decline. There was no “bloodbath on the highways,” as many of the Safety Nazis predicted.

To return to the bad old days of a law universally ignored and reviled is foolish. The cost of gas and diesel has already spurred most motorists to cut consumption by driving less, driving smarter (staying at or below the existing speed limits, making sure their tires are properly inflated, an so on), buying more fuel efficient vehicles, or a combination of the three.

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