Would national speed limit work?

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Saturday, October 9, 2010; 7:20 PM

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

For your and your readers' consideration, I am offering the following suggestion to drastically reduce (or in many cases completely resolve) our nation's transportation problems:

Mandate by law a country-wide speed limit of 50 mph and enforce it.

The benefits of such a law, beginning with energy conservation, road maintenance savings and protection of life and limb, are too numerous to list. In fact, I can think of no objection to this idea that makes any sense, given the conditions under which we travel and the problems we face now and in the future.

Years ago, an energy crisis produced the slogan "Fifty is thrifty." Yes, thrifty. But also, for so many other reasons, simply wonderful.

-Elizabeth A. Konig, Bethesda

Much as I support the goals of Konig's strategy, I'm afraid it wouldn't work. We've been there and done that. President Richard M. Nixon called for a national speed limit of 50 mph in response to the 1973 oil crisis. Congress passed a 55 mph speed limit.

People debated whether that had any impact on either conservation or safety, the energy crisis became a distant memory, and Congress finally repealed the last version of a national speed limit in the mid-1990s.

I'd love to see a lot more drivers slow down to the speed limit, but it won't help for the national government to set a speed limit that many drivers will ignore and local police can't enforce.

Transportation departments generally will try to peg the legal speed limit at or slightly below the rate at which 85 percent of people will drive. They consider other factors, such as road environment and the number of crashes in that zone.

Part of the idea, when it comes to enforcement, is to limit the number of drivers the police have to worry about.


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