On January 2nd, 1974, President Richard Nixon signed legislation requiring states to limit highway speeds to 55 mp. Join us and see how much you know about our nation's speeding laws.
What Was the First US State to Pass a Speed Limit Law? If you thought setting the upper limit at 55 was upsetting, you would not have wanted to live in Connecticut at the turn of the century. In 1901, Connecticut became the first state to pass a speed limit law, capping travel at 12 mph in cities and 15 mph on country roads. We can't tell if it's terrifying that people were allowed to drive at almost country-road speeds in the city or stifling that cars on country roads weren't allowed to go much faster than the city limit. Either way, the idea started to spread, though not everyone signed on. As recently as 1930, there were still 12 states without any speeding limit whatsoever (although this is far less frightening than the fact that at the time there was no driving age in 28 states).
OK, But Who Passed the First US Speed Limit Law for Vehicles of Any Kind?
We should revise our earlier statement. Connecticut wasn't the first place in the US with a speed limit law, it was the first place with a speed limit for cars. Back in 1652, the New Amsterdam colony (presently, New York) passed a law saying "No wagons, carts or sleighs shall be run, rode or driven at a gallop."
Fines started at "two pounds Flemish." We have no idea what that means, but we're told it's the modern day equivalent of $150.
Why Did Nixon Lower the Speed Limit? Many think of speed limits as a safety issue, but President Richard Nixon didn't revise the laws to lower the rate of automobile fatalities, he did it to cut back on gas consumption. In fact, the act was called the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. In the 1970s, in response to US relations in the Middle East, OPEC quadrupled oil prices for the US. For a country that consumes a lot of gas, this was, um, problematic. In an effort to cut back on gas consumption, Nixon lowered speed limits, and deemed that any state not complying with the new limit would no longer receive funding from the department of transportation for public works projects.
Did the New Speed Limit Result in Any Hit Songs? Well, that's a weird question you ask, but yes, yes it did. Sammy Hagar was pulled over one day in New York State for driving 62 miles per hour in a 55 zone. Or, we should say, according to the rock star he was driving 62 which could easily mean he was flooring it at around 85. Who knows? Hagar started complaining that he couldn't possibly go 55 and that's when it hit him. As he explained it, "I grabbed a paper and a pen, and I swear the guy was writing the ticket and I was writing the lyrics." I Can't Drive 55" topped out at 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was number 100 on VH1's 100 greatest hard rock songs. The song was good enough to keep on playing to this day and we're not surprised. No one likes driving 55.