Delegates OK 65-mph limit on interstates Bill sent to Senate affects 160 miles of highway in state


ANNAPOLIS -- Motorists on the open road would be able to open it up under legislation approved by the House of Delegates yesterday.

By a 96-36 vote, the House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would permit the speed limit to be raised from 55 miles per hour to 65 mph on about 160 miles of rural interstate highways in Maryland.

If enacted by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the change would likely affect most of Interstate 70 from Howard County to Western Maryland, Interstate 83 in northern Baltimore County and stretches of Interstate 95 in Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties.

U.S. 48 in Western Maryland also would probably join the list once it is upgraded to interstate status.

But the bill, sponsored by Delegate Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery, faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where state police are expected to oppose it.

In past years, Governor Schaefer has said he would veto any bill raising the state's speed limit -- a position administration officials said yesterday had not changed.

The measure was opposed on the House floor by delegates who argued the higher speeds would result in more traffic accident fatalities and serious injuries and would increase fuel consumption at a time the nation should be cutting back.

"Speed does kill," said one opponent, Delegate Peter G. Callas, D-Washington.

Delegate John W. Douglass, D-Baltimore, said the bill should really be called the "75-mile-per-hour speed bill" because motorists would probably exceed the new limit by 10 miles an hour, just as many of them exceeded the current limit.

But Delegate Dembrow said statistics from the 40 states allowing the 65-mph limit on some interstates showed that safety had not been affected. Interstate highways, he said, were designed to accommodate the higher speeds, and today's more fuel-efficient cars were designed to drive at those speeds.

In an effort to convince the state police to withdraw their opposition when the bill reaches a Senate committee, Mr. Dembrow said he might propose an amendment that would prohibit the State Highway Administration from raising speed limits to 65 mph until after a one-year pilot program had been conducted to determine if the higher speed limit on one or more stretches of interstate highway had any effect on safety.

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