55 MPH Speed Limit Makes Economic, Political, and Environmental Sense

Driving a little slower prevents crashes and tie-ups and could be the road to energy independence.

By SHARE

Of course, conserving gasoline also has advantages beyond the economic bottom line. Naturally, the environment benefits from a reduction in the pollution that's caused from burning fossil fuels. In addition, using less gasoline decreases our dependence on foreign oil. One has only to look at recent history to realize this point.

In 1974, as a response to a historic gasoline shortage, the U.S. adopted a 55 mph national speed limit. This was an emergency measure intended to reduce our dependence on imported crude oil, and it worked. Foreign oil accounted for 36 percent of our energy use before the national speed limit took effect, but in 1985, foreign oil made up just 28 percent of U.S. energy consumption, a record low.

These reductions were short-lived, however. In 1987, Congress relaxed the speed limit law to allow vehicles to drive 65 mph on rural highways, and consumption of imported oil began to skyrocket. Nonetheless, efforts to scale back the law continued, and in 1996, the national 55 mph speed limit was repealed. Our dependence on imported oil has increased dramatically ever since, rising to more than 60 percent of U.S. consumption.

History and science are offering us this simple lesson: Slowing down our motor vehicles has significant political, financial, and environmental rewards. All we have to do is observe posted speed limits and keep the speedometer from exceeding 55 mph. As the Drive 55 Conservation Project puts it, the result is modern-day alchemy. By reducing your vehicle's speed, you change the lead in your right foot into gold in your pocket.

  • What do you think? Should a national speed limit of 55 mph become law?
  • Read the case against a national speed limit, by James Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association.
  • Check out our political cartoons.
  • Become a political insider: Subscribe to U.S. News Weekly, our new digital magazine.

  • Corrected on : What do you think? Should a national speed limit of 55 mph become law?