Why Speed Limits Are Irrelevant

ridiculously low speed limit signThe world is getting smaller and tasks that used to take hours or days can now be completed in seconds thanks to the Internet. But it still takes what feels like forever and a day to cross Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and other annoyingly large U.S. states with mind-numbingly dull interstates.

The good news is that speed limits have gone up over the years to the point where highway 55-mph zones are becoming more and more rare. The bad news is that there are still plenty of distracted slowpokes clogging up the left lanes, even in high speed limit zones, making interstate travel needlessly stressful and arduous.

Yes, I know that higher speed limits translate into more frequent and severe traffic accidents, but I feel like I’m capable of determining what a safe speed is based upon traffic, weather conditions and the like. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and I’m quite sure we hand out the most speeding tickets too. But I’m not sure all the Big Brother tactics make us any safer.According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 14 states have a maximum speed limit of 75, 19 are at 70, and 14 are at 65. Here’s a look at how it breaks down.

Pedal-to-the-Metal Paradise- 80/85 mph

If you find yourself on I-15 in Utah, or on sections of I-10 and I-20 in West Texas, feel free to go 80 mph. According to IIHS and Reuters, Highway 130, which runs between San Antonio and Austin in Texas, parts of which are still under construction, might have a speed limit of 85 in the newly constructed section. If that happens, it’ll become the fastest posted limit in the Western Hemisphere.

Lands of Enlightenment- 75-mph states

Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Fast, But Could be Faster States- 70 mph

Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

Stuck in the Dark Ages States- 65 mph

Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.

According to Allstate’s America’s Best Drivers Report, the best drivers aren’t in states with low speed limits. Of the top ten cities with the safest drivers, five are in states with maximum limits of 75, four are in 70-mph states, and just one city, Eugene, Oregon, is in a 65-mph state. Furthermore, at the bottom of the barrel, all of the cities with the worst drivers – Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Hartford, Newark and Jersey City – are in low speed limit states.

Based on my experience, high speed limits also don’t always translate into faster driving. Take a spin on the BQE in New York or Rt. 128 in Boston when there’s light traffic and then compare the speed people are going versus what you find in places like Montana or rural Maine and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Last summer I spent countless hours driving around Montana and, despite the very high speed limits, could hardly believe how slow many people were driving. And I had the same experience this weekend, in Missouri, where the limit is 70 mph, but many motorists in the left lane were traveling well below the speed limit.

Everyone obviously has a right to travel at the speed they want, within reason. Those who are in no hurry, are trying to obtain better fuel economy, or just feel safer going slow should enjoy their crawl. But I learned in driver’s ed, many moons ago, that the left lane is for passing. So why are there so many oblivious people coasting along, below the limit, in the far left lane?

Some people just aren’t in a rush, but these days, when I pass someone going very slow in the left lane, very often they’ll be on the phone, texting or sending or receiving an email. The first thing you do when you’re distracted is slow down. Just as many states have increased their speed limits over the years, plenty are also trying to legislate against distracted driving.

State legislatures could do away with speed limits all together and impose the death penalty for texting and driving and some would still putter along in the far left lane, impeding traffic and texting away to their hearts’ content. Even though I doubt there’d be much of an impact, I’d like to see a national highway speed limit of 75 mph outside cities and a minimum of 55. And anyone who is caught needlessly impeding the flow of traffic in the far left lane should be forced to strap weights onto the bottom of their shoes.

(Photo via Abbynormy on Flickr)