Maine cranks up speed limit to 75 m.p.h.

Road stripes

Kai Ryssdal: Drivers in Maine will soon be living life in the somewhat faster lane. As soon as highway workers get new signs posted -- early next week or so -- the top speed limit's going to be 75 miles an hour along a 100-mile stretch of Interstate 95.

The new speed limit down east's gonna be the fastest anywhere east of the Mississippi. It's a trend you'd think truckers on tight timetables might appreciate.

But our senior correspondent Bob Moon reports one truckers' group actually wants Congress to slow things down.

Bob Moon: Sounds quaint, but back in the 1970s, encouraging people to drive slower was considered a public service.

1973 U.S. TRANSPORTATION DEPT. AD: At 55 miles per hour, you save gasoline, which is real money these days. But 55 miles per hour saves you more than that. Fifty-five saves lives.

My, how things have changed since Congress repealed the national speed law in 1995.

Russ Rader: States have been basically falling over themselves raising speed limits. Even though it's a safety problem, and it uses more fuel.

That's Russ Rader, who speaks for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It's that hit to fuel economy that's gotten the attention of the trucking industry. At the American Trucking Associations, Sean McNally says 65 miles per hour is "a kind of sweet spot."

Sean McNally: We found that a truck traveling 65 uses 27 percent less fuel than one traveling at 75. So if we reduce truck speeds to 65, we save 2.8 billion gallons of fuel a year.

So McNally says the truckers' group is prepared to back up that finding with action.

McNally: We've petitioned the federal government to require trucks to have electronic governors on them to keep them at or below 65.

But Gary Biller of the National Motorists Association argues the whole idea is setting a smooth, constant speed.

Gary Biller: Actually, it's better for fuel economy, even at a higher speed, because you've got less braking, less accelerating and traffic just flows a lot freer.

Biller also contends fatality rates have fallen since the "55" repeal. But the insurance industry's Russ Rader says speed still cuts reaction time and makes crashes more severe.

Rader: If we as a society decide getting people to their destinations faster is a priority, we also have to understand it means that more people will die.

Rader calls that a costly trade-off.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.
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I think speed limit 75mph is a great idea. I think they should do this in New Hampshire increase the speed limit from 65mph to 75mph.

Gary Biller states that fatalities have declined even as speed limits have increased, but he doesn't account for improvements to vehicles' passive and active safety systems such as airbags, antilock braking, crush zones, etc. which have reduced the likelihood and costs of high speed collisions. One thing the autobahners do that we need to nail down is go slow on the right and pass only to the left. Makes highways smoother at any speed. I favor 60, it's a mile a minute and fuel efficient.

To assert that higher speed limits cause more deaths on the highways is simply a myth. The accident rate has fallen dramatically since states were given the flexibility to set their own higher limits.

The only speed policy that makes safety sense is one where speed limits are based on highway design and that encourages all vehicles to travel at the same relative speed. Vehicles that don’t interact with each other by passing or being passed seldom crash.

Those that suggest otherwise either don’t know any better or have a different, conflicted agenda.

The American Trucking Associations’ support for slower truck speeds fits neatly with their desire to see bigger, heavier and longer truck combinations in all states, made even more convenient by the fact that their drivers are paid only for miles driven and not a penny for their time spent driving.

Todd Spencer, ex-vp
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association

John Stephens: driving more or driving faster does not kill soldiers anywhere, unless they are involved in a motor vehicle accident. US foreign policy kills soldiers. If we adopted your logic then every person in this country would have blood on their hands simply for having used fossil fuel powered transportation.

This stretch of I-95 is remote with a very low traffic volume compared to the rest of that highway. So they're gonna let folks go 5 mph faster for a hundred miles, what's the real difference? Besides, you have a choice to go slower if you'd like to save gas and lives.

@Denise Klein:

With due respect, you might be "going" 75 along I-75, but numerous sources we've checked all say Michigan's max speed remains 70 statewide. Perhaps it's the "I-75" signposts that you're seeing?

As we reported, Maine is the first state east of the Mississippi to officially adopt that 75 mph limit (post National Maximum Speed Law).

If a truck traveling 65 mph uses 27% less fuel than one traveling at 75 mph, the truck must be getting radically more efficient at 75 mph. Assuming a constant drag coefficient and motor efficiency, travel at 75-mph should consume 54% more fuel. Energy ~ Efficiency*Drag_Coeff*Velocity**3

Do we live in a world bubble. European roads go much faster, and they have much higher fuel cost. They just built better cars and trucks. They drive less of the mega boats, and outdated rigs that we seem to have an addiction to.

I read somewhere that the speed limit increase hasn’t increased the number of fatalities, but personally, I wish they would drop it back to 55. At 55, everybody went 65 anyway, and at 75 they’re sure to go 90. People don’t see the speed limit as a maximum but a minimum. At 55 in the slow lane or 60 in the second lane, I get truckers coming up behind me tailgating like they own the whole road, and I mean when there are three other lanes to choose from. That might be unique to California, though. 55 offers both the best gas mileage and lowest emission levels. I try to accommodate other drivers, but at $4 a gallon—-sorry, I’m in no hurry.

Fastest anywhere east of the Mississippi? Last i checked, Michigan is definitely east of the Mississippi, and we've been going 75 along I-75 for a number of years now...

Personally, I would much rather slow down by a few miles per hour and live to see another day, than to haul ass like a bat out of heck. As for truckers, let's keep them down to about 60 -- especially in places like Oregon, where TRIPLES are legal. Do you know how scary it is to be on I-5 and have a tractor-trailer combo pass you when it is some 175 feet long? Very nervous-making indeed!!!


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