Temporary speed limit turns 50

Did you remember the golden anniversary today?

On December 22, 1965 a temporary 70 mile per hour speed limit was imposed on British motorways (= US “freeways”). That speed limit is still in effect.

The limit was controversial at the time. Not the 70 mph limit, the existence of a speed limit at all. A British transportation official was surprised, he later wrote, to learn that his peers in other countries agreed with the idea of having speed limits on highways.

The U.S. was still divided. Connecticut had just abolished unlimited “reasonable and prudent” in favor of a 70 mile per hour speed limit when none was posted. On the other hand, you could fly across Nevada almost fast enough to make it not boring. (I’ve crossed the state a few times. Desert brown gets old.)

In late 1973 President Richard Nixon called for a temporary speed limit in response to the oil crisis. States complied, some eagerly (Massachusetts, November 13, 1973) and some reluctantly (Nevada sued and lost).

This temporary limit lasted 22 years. A generation grew up seeing temporary as normal.

When the national speed limit passed, only one state went back to open roads, and only briefly. Montana’s politicians were too embarrassed to be from the only state without a speed limit.

In the Northeast governors took pride in 55 mph enforcement. It used to be routine to post 60 or 65 on roads that weren’t rural Interstates. Now it’s unheard of.

People got used to speed traps and stopped complaining about them.

And that’s why you should watch out for “temporary” restrictions.

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