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"Gentlemen, Start Your Engines"

January 09, 1996
By: Angie Gaddy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri drivers would be stuck with the old federally-imposed speed limits for two-lane roads and urban highways under a measure scheduled for action by the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday (Jan. 10).

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, would retain the old federally mandated 55 mph limit for all but rural four-lane highways.

The daytime speed limits for rural four-lane highways would return to what they had been prior to the 1974 federal law imposing a national speed limit. That would boost the speed limit on rural Interstates back to 70 mph and 65 mph on rural four-state highways.

The bill is a reaction to Congressional repeal of the 1974 federal speed limit law.

While committee testimony focused on the opportunity to raise speed limits, the actual issue before state lawmakers is whether to retain any portion of the lower speeds that had been imposed by Congress.

The way Missouri's law is written, Missouri's pre-1974 speed limits automatically will take effect unless lawmakers pass legislation imposing slower limits.

Staples, committee chairman, said he was confident the bill would pass the committee's vote, and then would be ready for vote on the Senate floor.

"I don't know of anyone who's against it," he said. Gov. Mel Carnahan recommended Monday that legislators allow speed limits on rural interstates increase to 70 mph.

Transportation Committee members and state officials said Tuesday the old federally-mandated speed limit was too hard to enforce.

"The speed limit won't work if you can't enforce it," said committee member Sen. Irene Treppler, R-St. Louis Co. "People are speeding now at the 65 mile per hour speed limit."

Highway Patrol Superintendent Fred Mills agreed. "It's difficult for us in law enforcement to enforce the law if we don't have public support."

But the bill's supporters said safety concerns were the reason they wanted to retain the 55 mph speed limit on two-lane roads.

"We're killing our citizens on two-lane roads," Mills said. "So, it's imperative that we maintain a 55 mile-per-hour speed limit."

Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, said he thinks some two-lane highways should have a 65 mph speed limit.

"If it was safe 22 years ago, it is sure safe now." Russell said. But he said he is not planning to jeopardize the 70 mph speed limit by tacking on extra amendments.

Staples disagreed.

"We're raising the speed limit on four lanes to 10 miles per hour and 10 miles per hour on interstates, and I think that's plenty," Staples said. "10 miles per hour in an automobile is quite a difference."