85 MPH: Almost a Speed Limit

by Eric Peters EricPetersAutos.com Recently by Eric Peters: Support the Troops?

On a stretch of road near Austin, Texas there is an actual speed limit. Or at least, close to one.

You can drive up to 85 MPH on Texas Highway 130 – and not worry about receiving a “reckless driving” ticket. Or even a “speeding” ticket.

It’s a start.

Almost 60 years ago – during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower – construction of the Interstate Highway System began. Inspired by the German Autobahn, it was specifically intended to be a system of superhighways – with traffic flowing at speeds of at least 70 MPH. Much higher speeds were anticipated – and designed for. There are portions of the Interstate system that were laid out with 100-plus MPH average speeds in mind. By implication, speed limits would have been considerably higher.

But, let’s stick with 70-75 average speeds for just a moment – and reflect on Texas’ 85 MPH maximum today.

In the late 1950s, when the Interstate system was being laid out, the typical new car had manual drum brakes at all four corners, rode on skinny (by modern standards) whitewall bias-ply tires, had loosey-goosey steering and a suspension not far removed from what was used in Model Ts: Leaf springs, non-independent rear axle – perhaps shock absorbers. Really bouncy ones. That’s it. No anti-sway bars, no four wheel independent suspension – let alone four wheel disc brakes with ABS. And yet, the very smart – and very sober-minded – men who designed the Interstate system considered that the average car of circa 1958 (and the average driver of circa 1958) was sufficiently competent to safely handle steady-state cruising speeds of around 70-75 MPH.

It is nearly 60 years later – but we’re rarely allowed to travel faster. In fact, it’s a fairly recent development that we’re even allowed to drive at speeds that were allowable in the late 1950s and through the 1960s. Just 16 years have passed since the federal 55 MPH National Maximum Speed Limit (NMSL) was finally repealed. For almost 20 years prior, motorists were routinely mulcted by costumed enforcers for “speeding” – that is, for driving at speeds that were formerly lawful and well within the designed-for speeds envisioned by the engineers who laid out the Interstates . . . back when Eisenhower was in office.

Today, we can once more drive at late 1950s speeds – and not worry about “speeding” tickets. Celebration!

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