Repealing the 55 MPH Speed Limit

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In
1990, I first learned of the National
Motorists Association
(NMA) when I got a speeding ticket in
Texas. I fought the ticket and was found guilty. I was naive in
my belief that if I wasn't guilty of the charges, I could go before
the judge and explain that there was a misunderstanding and charges
would be dropped.

I
was amazed at how I had been treated in the court system. When I
appealed the guilty verdict, it seemed to affect the people representing
the system. Prior to the appeal the DA was pleasant and somewhat
paternalistic. At the request of the judge, he explained to me the
procedure and escorted me to the law library. There he advised me
to just pay for the ticket and go my way. However, when the trial
time came the DA went for the throat – mine! Well, I lost the
appeal as well, and the fine went from $10 to $144 – but during
that time, I learned what was happening to motorists all over these
United States.

During
my research to find how to change a system that is grossly unfair,
I came across a book titled "How to Beat the Radar Rap"
and through the publisher I was put in touch with Jim Baxter, President
of NMA. And it was through this heroic organization that I found
out that there is a method to setting speed limits and placing stop
signs. About this same time I met a traffic engineer who gave me
a book entitled, "National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control
Devices" (NCUTCD). This is where I first heard the term "the
85th percentile" it means that traffic engineers
believe the speed limits should be set at 85% of the speed adopted
by free flowing traffic. But, he told me his hands were tied –
all decisions were political.

Many phone calls went back and forth to Mr. Baxter and soon he asked
me to be the Texas State Chapter Coordinator. That seemed like too
much responsibility but I agreed to be an area coordinator. But
within a few months I was Texas State Chapter Coordinator with six
area coordinators under me. I lived 130 miles from Austin and for
two years, I burned up a lot of rubber. We were instrumental in
having several laws passed, e.g., keeping the 70 mph's speed limit,
temporarily suspended, in effect, making it easy for Texas to raise
its speed limit with the repeal of National Maximum Speed Limit
(NMSL). And we helped to defeat a law that would allow a judge to
be fired if he didn't collect enough traffic-fine revenue.

Every
year, NMA would have a national coordinators meeting, and my colleagues
urged that I be sent to Washington to bring about the repeal of
the NMSL. But NMA had already retained a lobbyist in DC and he was
supposed to be good. He did get a modification of the NMSL, a raise
in speed limits to 65 mph in rural areas. But the hoped-for repeal
of NMSL did not happen. Then in August 1994, Jim Baxter asked me
if I move to Washington, D.C., and lobby for the repeal. I told
Mr. Baxter: Yes, although repealing a law "cast in concrete"
for 23 years seemed like an impossible dream.

On
a trip back from the NMA national headquarters in Wisconsin, I drove
through Washington, D.C., and met with the NMA lobbyist, who told
me "you are not needed on this issue." He went on to tell
me, "you cannot use my office, you cannot receive phone calls
or mail, you cannot store anything." He leaned forward and
said "you cannot even use the bathroom." I replied, "I
guess I will have to find a place on the Hill." To which he
said. "You won't be able to afford it."

Leaving
the restaurant and my new colleague, I walked around the block and
stopped to talk with a woman working in her front yard. She said
she was renovating an apartment, but that it wouldn't be ready until
December. I was delighted, as I would not be moving to the District
until then, and I felt that an apartment on Capitol Hill would be
ideal for office and living. I knew I would need to be close to
the House and Senate offices.

I
drove home and packed up my belonging, and loaded them into a 24'
Ryder truck. I got behind the wheel of a truck for the first time
and drove alone, except for my dog and cat, to Washington. When
I arrived, I was again awed by history of the area and by the importance
of the Members of Congress. I felt small and insignificant by comparison.

Yet,
I believed so strongly that the NMSL was a bad law, that I felt
compelled to change it.

Fundamental
to good law in America is the idea that the behavior of most people
is reasonable. Laws are written to single out the unreasonable behavior
of a minority.

Speed
laws are based on the same ideas. Most people did not observe this
law. It made criminals out of most motorists, leaving us with the
dilemma of deciding if we should drive a safe speed or a legal speed.

But
first I had to find someone to introduce a bill to repeal the National
Maximum Speed Limits. As in all my work, the grassroots power of
NMA activists all over the country was my secret weapon.

Scott
Klugg, R-WI, introduced HR607 on January 20, 1995, but I felt it
wouldn't get the support it needed to pass. It read: A bill to amend
title 23, United States Code, to eliminate penalties for noncompliance
by States with requirements relating to the use of safety belts
and motor cycle helmets, the national maximum speed limit, and the
national minimum drinking age, and for other purposes. The reason
I didn't put NMA support behind this bill was: 1) I knew the motorcycle
groups had strong, active lobbying efforts to get the repeal of
the helmet law; 2) NMA membership is divided on the seat belt issue;
the most important part was 3) The alcohol issue would not be popular.

Pat
Roberts, R-KS, said that he would introduce a bill, but then reneged
and suggested that he offer HR 1007, a bill to allow 65 mph in urbanized
areas of 50,000 that could now only be posted at 55 mph. I quickly
withdrew NMA support from this bill, believing this bill to be a
mockery.

In
January 1995, I visited the office of Larry Combest, R-TX.. I spoke
with his Legislative Assistant, Lisa Elledge, who was handling transportation
issues. She told me Larry offered a bill every year for – maybe
for five or six years now, for a repeal of the NMSL. It was sort
of an office joke she said, but he really wanted the repeal. I felt
HR 427 was the bill to get behind and push it as hard as I could,
and we worked well together.

The
Surface Transportation subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure
hearing for changes in the National Highway (NHS) was to be held
on March 1, 1995. I had visited all the offices of the members of
the subcommittee. I knew enough now to know that the leadership
on both sides was against repealing NMSL. I also knew that the leadership
for NHTSA, FHwA, insurance companies, and 144 safety groups were
also against a repeal. I was told that "NMSL was cast in concrete – it had been in effect for 23 years, and would NEVER be repealed.
. . ."

I
knew that I needed something to break this mindset – but I didn't
know what.

At
first I thought if I just visited the opposing members and talked
logic to them that they would see the error of their ways –
but I quickly realize the proverbial "My mind is made up –
don't confuse me with facts" mentality. Besides, time was running
out. I needed a member of the House subcommittee to offer the amendment.
Bill Brewster, D- OK agreed to offer it. This proved to be a blessing,
as Norman Y. Mineta,
D-CA, was going to call for party unity against the bill –
and because Mr. Brewster
had agreed to offer it and he was a Democrat, Mr. Mineta had to
drop this idea.

I
knew it would be helpful if I could get support from some of the
leadership. Tom Petri, R-WI, was an ideal choice, as he represented
the state with the headquarters of NMA and he was the chairman of
the Surface Transportation committee.

The
committee meeting was coming soon and I needed to find someone to
give testimony at the subcommittee hearing. I first called Jim Baxter
to come Washington and give it, but he suggested that I ask Martin
Parker of Martin R. Parker & Associates, Inc., Wayne, Michigan.
I then called Dr. Parker. He declined, saying that he would need
his study in order to testify. The title of his study was "The
Effects of Raising and Lowering Speed Limits." He had been
enlisted to conduct by the Office of Safety and Traffic Operations
R&D, Federal Highway Administration (FhwA). I asked him where
his study was? He told me that it was being review by the Transportation
Research Board (TRB).

I
started telephoning people and getting the proverbial run-around.
I finally talked with Margarite, the secretary for Stephen Godwin,
Director of Studies and Information.

She
made me an appointment for that afternoon to visit with Mr. Godwin.
The visit was disappointing as Mr. Godwin told me he had never heard
of the study and maybe I didn't have all my facts straight – nicely
of course. I came home wondering in what to do next.

As
I walked in through my front door, the phone was ringing. It was
Margarite and she said that she had found the study and it was completed.
She said she would send it over to me immediately. I then called
Mr. Parker back and told him, and he said I could do whatever I
wanted to with the study. But in the meantime he had made other
plans and could not come to DC on the dates that I had asked about.

I
made 10 copies of the full report and 535 of the commentary and
summaries and I took them to all members of congress. Many members
of congress started telephoning NHTSA and FHwA demanding to know
where this study had been and why they hadn't seen it when the Final
Report was dated October 1992. This study was the turning point
of the repeal.

Senator
Don Nickles, R-OK and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell were the cosponsors
of the repeal in the Senate. S-476. Time was running out, as the
Transportation subcommittee would be meeting soon and if an amendment
wasn't offered, it would just not go anywhere. I had spoken with
all the members, save one, Senator Lauch Faircloth. No one wanted
to handle this "hot potato." I had called Senator Faircloth's
office numerous times, but couldn't seem to get through to the person
that handled the transportation issues. On Monday, May 1, I called – again- and a George Howard answered the phone. I told him who
I was and that I wanted to schedule an appointment. There was a
silence on the other end of the phone. Then, he said, "You
just aren't going to leave me alone until I talk to you, are you?"

I was taken aback, but I took a deep breath and as pleasantly as
I could muster said, "No, I'm not. The subcommittee meeting
will be on the third and I need to talk with you."

He
sighed and replied "If you can be in my office in 20 minutes
I will meet with you."

"Yessssss!"
I said. I was in Mr. Howard's office in 10 minutes. He listened
to all I had to say about the repeal, and then without a word he
turned and picked up the telephone and punched in some numbers.
Then, he said into the receiver, "I have this woman in my office
who thinks that we can get rid of the speed limits."

A few minutes later he turned back to me and said "We will
think about it." Mr. Howard telephoned me Tuesday morning and
told me that the Senator would file an amendment.

I
thought that meant that he would offer the amendment in the subcommittee.
I was delighted and I called all the subcommittee members' offices
and told them. That evening Mr.

Howard
called me back and said that the Senator had changed his mind, and
wouldn't be offering the amendment. I exclaimed "NO! I called
all the subcommittee members and told them that the Senator would
offer it." Mr. Howard's sounded flabbergasted, as he cried
out "YOU DIDN'T?" I was disappointed and slightly confused
as well. "I said quietly, u2018I did, I thought it was a done deal.'"

I
was really low, but I thanked him for calling me and then told him
"at least by telling me this evening, you won't have to see
a grown woman cry tomorrow during the subcommittee meeting."

I
was as surprised as everyone else when Senator Faircloth offered
the amendment and called for a voice vote. Five yeas, including
the Senator from Nevada who told me the night before that he would
vote nay, and three nays and one abstaining. It passed and everyone
was congratulating me.

I
sighed as I reflected, and wrote in my journal: Where else but in
the USA could I discuss flowers with the congresswoman from NY and
the congressman from ID, both living next door to me, then walk
to the Senate Office building for a meeting on the speed limits.
I have come a long way since I got that speeding ticket in Victoria,
Texas.

Ah,
little did I know that the battle was just beginning and it would
be fought with the "big guns." I had been ignored by the
opponents of State's Rights and the idea that people are basically
capable of making rational choices. But there was a lull and I basked
in the victory.

My first inkling of what was to come, came on May 8. A press conference
was held on the east lawn of the Capitol. The biggest foes of freedom
from both sides of the aisle were the leadership of the Transportation
committees in the House and the Senate. They were joined with NHTSA,
FHWA, and the leadership of the Highway Patrol of both Maryland
and Virginia. I came early to visit with people who would be attending,
giving out bumper stickers "LET'S END THE HYPOCRISY: REPEAL
55" and lapel pins that were a red circle with a slash through
55. Imagine my delight when I noticed during the filming of the
conference a bumper sticker across one video camera and a lapel
pin on the jaunty cap of another cameraman.

I
didn't let up my efforts. I continued to visit the offices. In fact,
I personally visited every office in the House – 435 to be exact
and 100 in the Senate. During these 11 months I literally wore out
four pairs of shoes.

Over the next six months I steadily visited congressional offices
smiling, waiting, answering questions, and supplying information
concerning the wisdom of supporting the repeal. Sometimes I felt
holding the votes together was like trying to hold mercury.

First
the National Highway Systems bill went through the Senate on June
20, 1995 and passed 65-35. When the repeal went for a vote in the
House September 20, 1995, the vote was 419 yeas, 7 nays, and 8 not
voting. The language wasn't the same and it had to go into Appropriation
which was very ominous as the repeal of NMSL could have been tabled
and never voted on again. During this time I had tried to get an
appointment with Ricardo Martinez, Director of NHTSA, but was repeatedly
turned down. All is well that ends well, and a veto-proof bill was
sent to President Clinton for his signature. November 28, 1995,
was the end of the National Maximum Speed Limits.

NMA
had done the impossible, and benefitted every motorist in America,
and I was so proud to be part of it.

July
28, 2000

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