Federal transportation officials have notified Maryland that it is one of three states that failed to comply with the requirements of the 55 m.p.h. speed limit last year according to preliminary data supplied by the states.

To comply with federal guidelines for enforcement of the national speed limit, imposed in 1974, states must ensure that no more than 50 percent of motorists exceed the limit on interstate highways. Maryland officials said yesterday that they were notified that 55.9 percent of motorists in the state do not observe the speed limit, even when allowances for emergency vehicles and other exceptions are made.

"It's not completely clear to us why," Atkins said. "If we knew exactly what was wrong we'd do something about it."

If Maryland is found out of compliance after the figures are given another review, the state could be penalized with the loss of up to $5.8 million in federal highway funds, although state officials said such a penalty is unlikely.

"That does not mean the federal government is withholding funds from us. It does mean there's a problem and we have requested a meeting to discuss it," said Dennis Atkins, a deputy director in Maryland's Transportation Department.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation said Arizona and Vermont also failed to keep their motorists driving at the limit, and will also be reviewed again. No state has ever been penalized with the loss of federal funds for failure to comply, however.