HAPPY MOTORING, Virginians -- and anybody else who has to hit the roads of the Old Dominion once the lawmakers in Richmond finish embracing a 65 mph speed limit on rural portions of interstate highways. Even though yesterday they were still voting back and forth on various versions of 65, the ultimate result is expected to be an accelerator-tromper at least for cars if not trucks. There's nothing odd about such a move -- 38 states have endorsed this backward step -- but it's guaranteed deadly. And if you have ever had the thrill of whipping down I-95 from Prince William County to Richmond, you surely know what additional thrills lie ahead. Already, the going rate on this raceway to the Southland is a good 20-plus miles above the posted 55; at 65, the run should be a real killer. Count on it.

New tolls should tell the story, but while you're waiting, here are some numbers from a study prepared for Virginia Transportation Secretary Vivian Watts: as of last June, the average speed on the state's rural interstates was 59.9 mph, an increase of 3.6 mph over the previous year. The study concluded that raising the speed limit to 65 would result in six to 18 more fatalities and perhaps as many as 400 more injuries a year. In December, a survey of 22 states by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that fatalities had increased by more than 50 percent on highways where the speed limit had been raised to 65.

Now, even allowing for all statistical mitigating factors, you're talking death here. Sure, many motorists are skilled enough to handle the higher speeds safely. But not so the ubiquitous, stupid, reckless and horribly unpredictable Other Guy. Perhaps you even ran across -- or alongside -- O. G. over the weekend, when you were sandwiched in one of those 80 mph, bumper-to-bumper stock car races rounding a bend in I-95.

At any rate -- at least any rate above 55 -- Virginians can thank those legislators who claim to be acting in response to "public sentiment" for giving the go-ahead to faster going. It should put a little sport in everybody's life -- or death.