A worker directs traffic to slow down during road construction in Baltimore on Feb. 3. (Hassan Sarbakhshian/Bloomberg)

Maryland speed limits top out at 65 mph, but the state might soon allow drivers to legally drive 70 mph.

The Maryland Senate voted 39 to 7 Thursday morning to give state transportation officials the option to increase the maximum speed limit to 70 mph on some interstate highways and expressways. The legislation still needs approval from the Maryland House of Delegates, which passed a similar bill last year.

Sen. George C. Edwards (R-Garrett), who sponsored the legislation, said most major modern highways are constructed to safely handle cars going at that speed. Even if the legislation becomes law, he said, the state Transportation Department could opt to leave the speed limits as they are.

“Most states in this country have at least 70 miles per hour,” Edwards said on the Senate floor. (In parts of Texas, drivers can legally drive 85 mph.)

Virginia has allowed speed limits of 70 mph on rural highways since 2010. In Delaware, the maximum permitted speed is 65 mph.

Seven Democrats voted against Senate Bill 44, and several of those dissenters raised questions about the increased risk of fatal accidents.

“When the speed limit is 65, most people go 75, 76 — so now when the speed limit goes to 70, people are going to go into the 80, 81, 82,” said Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), who voted against the bill. “I just think it’s too fast. Speed kills.”

Edwards responded: “Most people — there are some nuts out there — but most people abide by and go what they consider a safe speed. And on most roads, 79 miles per hour is a safe speed.”

Edwards added that if Brochin and others do not want such a high speed limit in their counties, they should tell transportation officials not to increase limits in those areas.

“It’s not mandatory,” Edwards said.