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Carlos Slim’s Blog discovered that many jurisdictions are raising speed limits. Some are now as high as 80 or 85 MPH – almost back to what were safe speeds in 1970. They begin with the “blur” of driving through Nevada and then progress to Texas before culminating on the German autobahn.

Shiny new signs posted last week in northern Nevada signal that the state is joining a trend toward higher speed limits for rural highways — motorists can now hit 80 miles per hour on a 130-mile stretch of Interstate 80.

Nevada has long been known as a state that allows people to do things they can’t do anywhere else in the country, but don’t expect any winking boasts that what happens between Fernley and Winnemucca stays between Fernley and Winnemucca. A handful of other states already had a limit of 80 m.p.h. or more, and there are places in the world where you can legally go even faster.

Things really are bigger in Texas. And Germany.

A section of State Highway 130 in Texas, a toll road between Austin and San Antonio, has an 85 m.p.h. speed limit, the highest in the United States — a fact that drew a lot of attention when the blacktop opened to traffic in 2012. It did not, however, draw a lot of drivers, and the company that won the concession to operate the highway filed for bankruptcy last year.

Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming raised the limits on certain roads to 80 m.p.h. in recent years — in part out of a recognition that a lot of people were driving that fast already. Mississippi has a theoretical 80 m.p.h. limit; it applies only to toll roads, and the state has no toll roads.

Bulgaria and Poland have limits as high as 140 kilometers per hour, about 87 m.p.h. Of course, such numbers seem paltry when you look at Germany’s fabled autobahn, where some stretches have no absolute limit, and speeds above 100 m.p.h. are common. In fact, there are several documented instances of drivers exceeding 200 m.p.h. on the autobahn, some of them with video evidence or automotive magazine writers as witnesses.

So, in Nevada, the legal speed limit – in places – is now close to those speeds people elsewhere obtain anyway. Then they (briefly) commence the scare tactic deception.

About 35,000 people die each year in traffic accidents in the United States, and nearly 2,000 of those deaths are attributable to increased speed limits, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Notice that the IIHS does not say the speeding itself was to blame for 5.7% of those 35,000 fatalities. It is “attributable to increased speed limits”. Other studies show faster drivers are safer drivers, mainly because, at high speed, they have to pay attention. Many (most?) of the 2,000 increased speed limits deaths are caused by idiots wandering into the path of higher-speed drivers. The “speeders” are not necessarily to blame but they get counted for statistical purposes.

No mention of accident rates in speed-happy Germany, because they’re aren’t that many. Germans know how to drive. Most Americans do not. And, in Germany, the timid have an outlet: they simply stay out of the left lane. This solution is far too simple for U.S. clovers, who feel it is their right to wander around aimlessly and below the posted limits in any lane they choose. This is almost always illegal but nobody cares. Here, speeding is bad; pitiful driving is good. The fatalities will continue.

Something the Times failed to mention was Montana’s experiment in the 1990’s. Then, that state had,in most places and on most roads, no daytime speed limits at all. I have fond memories of cruising a two-lane back road to nowhere at 110 MPH and barely being able to pass large trucks. There were no accidents and no fatalities – you need people for those numbers, which Montana lacked. It was so awesome it got boring. But it’s gone now. 75. 80. Creep, creep, creep.

On a somewhat related note, Eric Peters has some accounts of what happens to you when you decide to drive outside the state’s arbitrary rules. Rather, he discusses what happens when they say you do, even when you don’t.

Break their rules, and they hammer you. Obey their rules, and they hammer you. Might be better to at least have a little fun before the hammer falls.


Sammy got a 10 MPH bump. bestride.com.