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Congressional Record, Volume 131, Number 9, January 31, 1985



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Congressional Record United States 99th of America PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 99 CONGRESS, FIRST SESSION Vol- 131_WASHINGTON, THURSDAY, JANUARY 31, 1985_No. 9 Senate Congressional Record proceedings and debates of the 99 congress, first session Vol 131 WASHINGTON, THURSDAY, JANUARY 31, 1985 No. 9 Senate By Mr. HECHT (for himself, Mr. Laxalt, Mr. Nickles, and Mr. Symms): S. 329. A bill entitled the "Highway Speed Modification Act of 1985"; to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. highway speed modification act Mr. HECHT. Mr. President, over 10 years ago, the United States experienced one of the most threatening and economically devastating situations ever witnessed by this country, that being the Arab oil embargo of the early 1970's. Drastic upheaval in American lifestyles transpired and for the first time in modern-day America, the abundance and convenience of life, which we all were used to, was severely restricted. As we watched energy prices increase fourfold, conservation became our initial goal with the most visible action being the lowering of speed limits on our roads and highways to 55 miles per hour. Enacted as a temporary provision in 1973, Congress made the law permanent in 1974 and it has stood ever since. As we all know, Mr. President, the situation is much different today. The American people responded to the oil embargo in a strong and resourceful fashion. Advanced technology has made our cars more fuel efficient, strict conservation was adhered to, and new ways were found to develop alternative energy sources. In the past few years, a renewed and strengthened American economy has created an environment where energy supplies are abundant, oil prices continue to decline, and the adverse effects of the embargo are all but forgotten. Mr. President, as the memories of the oil embargo have faded, there is now great concern in many sectors of society over whether or not the original 55-mile-per-hour law is as effective and useful as it once was. A recently published report of the National Research Council clearly raised questions about the 55-mile-per-hour law and has cast doubt on the law's future. Generally approving the benefits of the 55-mile-per-hour limit, the National Research Council report acknowledges that while the law has been beneficial in reducing fuel consumption and traffic fatalities, in certain circumstances, speed limits might justifiably be allowed to be raised. Moreover, Mr. President, in the past few years, compliance with the 55-mile-per-hour law has dramatically decreased and States appear to have lost interest in enforcing the law, even with the threat of possibly losing Federal highway construction dollars. The National Research Council report states that "as with many other policies that attempt to modify public behavior, the benefits of the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit diminished along with public awareness and compliance with the law." Indeed, Mr. President, compliance has decreased dramatically and it is now estimated that over 75 percent of all drivers today exceed the 55-mile-per-hour limit. While compliance diminishes, an interesting fact reflects the gains in highway safety made over the years; as the national average speed continues to increase, the national highway fatality figure continues to decrease. The inadequacies of the current 55-mile-per-hour speed limit and the trend away from compliance have moved me to introduce today legislation that will modify the 1974 speed limit law. I want to assure my colleagues that this bill is in no way intended to repeal the law, for I believe, as the National Research Council indicates, that in certain circumstances, the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit is justified. On the other hand, for rural areas and on highways originally constructed to be traveled at higher speeds, some alteration in the law should be made. Basically, my law would do the following: Allow each State to raise speed limits as high as 65 miles per hour on roads outside urban areas. Urban areas will be defined as communities with a 2 population of 50,000 people or more. It would give the States the right to determine which roads, outside urban areas, are suitable for higher speeds and it would hold speed limits within urban areas at the current 55 miles per hour. Mr. President, America prospers today because of an administration that strives for less government and more self-determination by individuals and States. The bill I am introducing is a further step in that direction. It is a realistic and balanced approach, one that recognizes the benefits and problems of the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit while attempting to offer a rational and workable solution. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the bill be printed in the Record. There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in Record, as follows: S. 329 the Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, Section 1. Subsection 154(a) of title 23, United States Code, is amended? (1) by inserting "in any urbanized area" immediately after "highway" the first time it appears; (2) by redesignating clause (2) in the first sentence as clause (3); (3) by inserting immediately after "hour," the following: "(2) a maximum speed limit on any other public highway within its jurisdiction, as designated by the Governor or other appropriate State official, in excess of sixty-five miles per hour,"; and (4) by changing "(2)" in the last sentence to "(3)." Sec. 2. Subsection 154(f) of title 23, United States Code, is amended? (1) by inserting "in any urbanized area" immediately after "hour" the first time it appears; Sec. 3. Section 154 of title 23, United States Code is amended by adding the following new subsection? (i) As used in this section the term "urbanized area" means any urbanized area identified in the Federal census of 1980.