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Congressional Plan Would Boost Speeds in Mo.

September 21, 1995
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY _ If the U.S. Congress has its way, Missourians will be able to drive 70 mph on U.S. highways and interstates without worrying about being pulled over.

A recent U.S. House-approved bill calls for the repeal of the federal speed limit _ 55 mph for U.S. highways and 65 mph for interstates. If it is passed, setting speed limits would be up to the states.

And for Missouri, that means faster roadways.

"We would go back to pre-1973 limits," said Dan Needham, director of the Highway Safety Division. Those pre-1973 limits are 70 mph on interstates and U.S. highways. Other divided highways would be 70 during the day and 65 between dusk and dawn.

A Missouri statute mandates that once the federal speed limit requirement is repealed, Missouri would re-implement its pre-1973 speed limits.

The state law is unclear whether the higher limits would take effect within 30 days after repeal or as quickly as 10 days after repeal.

But such a short time period for reinstituting the old limits would be impossible, said Mark Zacher, who handles the making of highway signs for the state's Highway Department. "I don't know from a practical standpoint how fast we could get the signs up," he said.

Zacher said that his department is recommending that the General Assembly reconsider the old law that would re-implement the pre-1973 speed limits.

"We have recommended some legislative action that would allow some of the speed limits to go back, like on interstates, but not on some of the lower roads," he said.

Capt. C.A. Greeno, public information director for the Missouri Highway Patrol, warned of the possible increase in highway fatalities if the law passes.

"Increased speeds increase the severity of accidents," Greeno said.

If Missouri gets its old speed limits back, Greeno said the Highway Patrol would be enforcing it strongly.

Congress passed the federal speed limit in 1973 to help conserve energy during the Arab oil embargo. In addition to conserving energy, many contend the lower speed limits saved lives.

"After the speed limit was lowered to 55, there were many who claimed it had a safety impact," Zacher said.

Highway fatalities did drop a bit after the speed limit was lowered _ from an average of about 1,400 per year to 1,380 in the first year of the 55 limit and lower in subsequent years.

As for making plans, Needham said the Highway Safety Division will watch to see what passes.

"Right now we're playing a waiting game because there's a big difference between the House and Senate versions of the bill," he said.

The difference between them is the House version calls for complete repeal of the national speed limit, whereas the Senate's still would have a speed limit requirement for large trucks.