- Report Published -
|The Special Task Force Studying Safe Maximum Highway Speed Limits|
|Department of Transportation|
|SJR 7 (Regular Session, 1996)|
|In November 1995, Congress repealed the law that required that states adhere to national maximum speed limits (NMSL) as a condition of receiving Federal-aid highway assistance and returned to states the authority to set their own speed limits when it passed the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995. Federally established maximum speed limits had been set at 65 mph on rural Interstate-quality roads and at 55 mph on all other routes. The repeal of the NMSL allows each state to set any speed limit it wants or no speed limit at all.|
Until the 1970s, states were empowered to establish their own speed limits. With the passage of the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act in 1974, Congress set the first national speed limit at 55 mph. The speed limit was imposed as a temporary fuel-savings measure in response to the OPEC oil embargo and made permanent by an act of Congress in 1975.
Since the elimination of the Federal mandated speed limit in November 1995, 21 states already have increased their maximum speeds beyond 65 mph. The states in which the speed limits have been raised are predominantly western, but a number of southern and midwestern states have raised their speed limits as well. For example, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas all have raised their speed limits. Seven other states, Deleware, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin and Maryland, did not increase the maximum speed beyond 65 mph, but expanded the system of routes on which vehicles can travel 65 mph.
Senate Joint Resolution 7
Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 7 was introduced by Senator Waddell and passed by the 1996 General Assembly to determine whether speed limits in Virginia should be changed and to ensure sound, rational and objective criteria are used to set maximum safe speed limits on the various classifications of highways.
A Special Task Force was convened for the purpose of recommending appropriate maximum highway speed limits for the various classifications of highways and types of vehicles within the Commonwealth based on sound, rational, and objective criteria. The Task Force was composed of representatives of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Virginia Transportation Safety Board, the Virginia State Police, the Crash Investigation Team of Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC), the Virginia Association of Counties, the Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Association of Sheriffs, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, and the American Automobile Association.
This report presents a review of the literature dealing with speed limits. There is a large base of data assessing the impacts of the 55 mph speed limit, most of the research for which was conducted between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s. In addition, there are a number of studies that evaluated the effects of raising speed limits on rural Interstate in the late 1980s. However, because the National Highway System Designation Act passed less than a year ago, there is limited information regarding the effects of changes that have taken place since that time. Where possible, researchers used Virginia data to supplement a review of the literature on a given issue.