The nation's top legal driving speed soon could rise to a long-forbidden 80 mph as Texas moves toward increasing the limit on parts of two interstate highways.
The proposed increase on Interstates 10 and 20 in West Texas is opposed by some national traffic safety advocates, who say speed contributes to many crashes.
"That's not good news for safety," says Richard Retting, senior transportation engineer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry group. "When states raise speed limits, they're trading lives for faster travel times."
But a study by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) found that 85% of drivers on the affected highways already drive 76-79 mph, says Carlos Lopez, the agency's traffic operations chief.
TxDOT has been studying the proposal since the Legislature last year authorized increasing the speed limit from 70 or 75 to 80 mph in 10 mostly rural counties.
The five-member Texas Transportation Commission, which has the final say, is expected to consider the proposal May 25, TxDOT spokesman Mike Cox says.
If it approves, the new speed limit would be posted within a week. "Our folks are working right now on fabricating signs," Lopez says.
The move comes amid soaring gas prices. The Department of Energy says that gas mileage drops sharply at speeds over 60 mph, and that drivers can assume that each 5 mph over 60 is like paying an additional 20 cents per gallon of gas.
American drivers have not seen a "Speed Limit 80" sign in more than three decades. The Kansas Turnpike had an 80-mph limit beginning in 1956, and Nevada and Montana had no numeric limits on some rural highways at times in the past. In 1974, Congress instituted a national 55-mph limit, which it lifted in 1995. States now set speed limits, even on federal highways. Thirteen states in the West and Midwest have 75-mph limits.
Some Texas officials oppose higher limits. "If the speed limit is raised to 80, everybody is going to be doing 85 or 90," says Hudspeth County Judge Becky Dean-Walker, the top elected official in one county facing the move to 80. "That's just human nature." Link
By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY Wed May 17, 7:01 AM ET