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

Bob Moon Sep 29, 2011

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

Bob Moon Sep 29, 2011

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My, how things have changed since Congress repealed the national speed law in 1995.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

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