55 MPH Speed Limit Day
annually on January 2nd
On January 2, 1974, President Richard Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act into law. It contained the National Speed Limit Law, which lowered the speed limit to 55 mph nationally. The law was created in hopes it would help drivers be more fuel efficient, so there would be less of a dependence on foreign oil. President Nixon thought that by lowering the speed limit, about 2% less gas would be used, and gas prices would lower. There was also a belief that a lowered speed limit would make roads safer.
The United States had relied on oil from the Middle East for decades. As part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Yom Kippur War was fought between Arab countries and Israel in 1973. The Organization for Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC), an organization of Arab oil-producing countries, was not happy about the West's support of Israel during the war and stopped shipping oil to the United States and other Western countries. The price of oil quadrupled during the embargo.
Prior to the new speed limit law, states had set their own highway speed limits. Although the law was optional, it said that the Department of Transportation would not give any funding to new projects or road repairs in states that did not comply with the new law. Consequently, all states complied, although some states were looser in their enforcement than others. For example, some states in the West, such as Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, gave out "energy wasting fines" instead of speeding tickets. These fines of $5 to $15 were given out to those who went over 55 mph but stayed under the speed limit that existed before the law went into effect.
In March 1974, OPEC lifted their embargo. Prices remained high and a shift to purchasing fuel-efficient cars began, which didn't subside until the SUV boom in the 1990s. The speed limit law was unpopular, with a majority of people continuing to speed. Additionally, less than half of the hoped-for reduction in gas consumption took place. The law was repealed in 1995, and many states now have highway speed limits of 70, 75, or 80 mph.
There was still some opposition to the repeal of the law when it was removed. Those in favor of it said it helped save lives. Indeed, traffic fatalities did drop after the speed limit was set at 55 mph. But this could have been attributed to other factors, such as safety measures on vehicles. This seemed to be the case, as fatality rates continued to drop after the law was repealed.
55 MPH Speed Limit Day is celebrated by those who think the law was beneficial and should return. Although proponents are in the minority, some believe a return to it would make roads safer and save energy. Others don't necessarily think the law should return, but still mark the day by remembering the law.
How to Observe 55 MPH Speed Limit Day
The day could be celebrated by finding a road that has a 55 mph speed limit to drive on, and going exactly 55 mph while on it. Conversely, you could find a highway that has a speed limit that is higher than 55 mph and celebrate the freedom you have because the National Speed Limit Law is no longer on the books. This could best be done by driving in Texas, where the speed limit is 85 mph on some roads. Another way to celebrate the day could be to learn about ways to conserve fuel.