The Strictly Enforced State

When I hit the state line the speed limit changed from 65 to 75. The road was the same, but the DOT director was different. Oklahoma DOT ignores the law requiring speed limits to be justified by engineering studies. Texas DOT exercised its discretionary authority to raise most of West Texas from 70 to 75.

We’re supposed to have “a government of laws and not of men.” But the man in charge is important. All it takes is one person in the right place to overrule the law. The former Mayor of Boston was frightened by a car so he ordered an illegal speed limit reduction in a city park. The Governor of New York was frightened by media coverage of a crash, so he ordered an illegal speed limit reduction on a highway. The former governor of Oregon liked low speed limits, so he had state DOT engineers fraudulently report that speed limits could not be raised. And Oklahoma’s DOT director wishes the statutory speed limits had not been repealed.

I entered Oklahoma on I-44 and saw a sign warning that the minimum speed limit, 50 mph, had NO TOLERANCE. I made sure not go under 50, even though I didn’t see any cops watching. Median crossovers had the usual signs banning their use, with the added bonus “strictly enforced.” Tolls were also strictly enforced. Not sure what that means. Do people think they can get away with handing over $4 instead of $5?

Those warnings aren’t even as useful as California’s “RADAR ENFORCED” plates. The California message means “we know the speed limit is too low.” It’s a hint that you can speed safely. In Oklahoma “NO TOLERANCE” and “STRICTLY ENFORCED” blend into the rest of the roadside clutter.

Oklahoma, may you now be known as “the Intolerant State.”

Maximum speed limits in Oklahoma are still set at whatever was in fashion in the 1990s. 75 on toll roads, 70 on free Interstates, 65 on two lane roads. (45 day and 35 night on federal land; somebody in USFWS likes night speed limits.) I’m guessing reduced speed limits through towns are also old, probably set 50 years ago and not reviewed, but I didn’t see the point in filing an open records request to make sure. I already knew the DOT director had the attitude, “our speed limits are perfect just the way I like them.”

When I got to Texas the speed limits suddenly became relevant. I almost wrote “relevant again”, but that would imply they had been relevant at some point earlier in my trip. You can drive across the country without seeing a meaningful speed limit. In that part of Texas a rural two lane state highway can be comfortably driven within the speed limit. The speed limit is not needed, but it is not harmful either.

The 80 mph zones in a few northern states are the same: unnecessary but possible to obey. The only speed traps in Wyoming were in 75 mph zones. (NHTSA was paying police to run speed traps that week.)

Unfortunately Texas has not used its discretion to raise speed limits to 80 on most Interstates. In fact, the bosses want lower Interstate speed limits. Except for the older limits on part of I-10 and I-20, speed limits are kept at 75 maximum to make free roads wose than toll roads.

The good thing about the repeal of Oklahoma’s statutory speed limits is residents only need to convince two people to get realistic speed limits. The DOT director can do it, and the governor can do it. I can’t do it because I live out of state.

If you live in Oklahoma, call the governor’s office and complain about your favorite state highway speed trap.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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