If you are following my blog, there’s a good chance you are in the age group that would instantly begin singing the Sammy Hagar hit yourself when you saw the title of this week’s Flashback Friday post. It’s a pretty cool song that still gets played on classic rock stations to this day.
Here’s something to ponder…. there’s an entire generation of young adults out there today to whom this song really doesn’t have any meaning. Heck, even for most of us in our thirties, it’s a song that really doesn’t have any meaning… although we understand what it’s about.
Am I confusing you yet?
In 1984, when Sammy released his hit song “I Can’t Drive 55”, the speed limit on all US highways was 55 miles per hour. Period. No exceptions. If you wanted to legally drive over 55 mph, you had better find a local racetrack or an empty mall parking lot. Those of you for whom these Flashback Friday posts are written, we grew up in a world where 55 was the law, and it was preached and reinforced to us in PSA’s, at DMV’s, and probably even by Goofus and Gallant.
Doesn’t the days of the 55 mph limit seem so long ago, and such an archaic part of our history? How did this come about anyway? Did the Safety
Nazis czars grab the government by the balls and force this blatant disregard for states’ rights on us all?
Nope, it had nothing to do with safety or blood on the tracks at all. It had to do with the fucked up state of the oil industry in the 70’s…
The maximum speed limit provision in the United States was part of 1974’s Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, which was a response to the realization that we had become too dependent upon oil as an energy source since we faced chronic gas shortages, and was passed to encourage Americans to conserve energy…. which of course was a better solution than say… oh, I don’t know, actually encouraging the development of alternative energy resources. Yeah, even as far back as four decades ago, they knew we’d still be driving cars on old dinosaurs rather than on resources that are actually plentiful like solar power, electricity or chileh….
The reasoning behind the speed limit provision of the EHECA was a supposed scientific claim that cars operated at maximum fuel efficiency at around 50 mph. If you think this was some kind of liberal, commie, pinko infiltration of our government back in the dying days of the hippie culture, here’s the man who signed the bill and fully supported the new federal speed limit:
Since the first roads were built, states had set their own speed limits on the highways that ran through their domain…. or in the case of some states in the wild west, a lack of speed limits. The EHECA forced the states to swallow the bitter pill of a much lower federal speed limit by withholding all federal highway funding for any state that did not comply with the strict 55 mph maximum. So beginning in 1974, every mile of interstate in the country suddenly became a 55 zone.
As the 70’s waned, and the energy crisis abated, there was a renewed call to repeal the federal speed limit. Ah, but here’s where the safety researchers came in and spoiled the party for everyone!
Studies were released showing that automotive fatalities had decreased sharply during the first year the 55 mph speed limit went into place, a decline which was attributed to less horrific crashes due to the slower driving speeds. This was extremely impressive given that most people hadn’t bothered slowing down for the new speed limits in the first place, but nevertheless, it was enough for our well-meaning government to keep the federal speed limit provision intact, only now in the name of highway safety!
And thus why as the awesome decade of the 1980’s rolled around, we were still stuck in a country filled to the gills with 55 mile per hour speed limit signs, and one pissed off Red Rocker. Some semblance of sanity would finally come about in 1987, when Congress passed a new highway bill that allowed for speed limits on rural interstates to be raised to 65 mph. Ultimately, it would be in the aftermath of 1995’s government budget showdown that the National Highway Designation Act would be passed which completely repealed the federal speed limit. States could once again set their own speed limits on their roads and highways. Remember how
queer odd those higher speed limit signs looked to us when they first went back up in the mid 90’s?
And so to get back to the point I was making at the beginning of this post… to most of the people reading this blog, we remember the 55 mph speed limits, but by the time we started driving, and especially by the time we began to do a lot of interstate driving, the current higher state limits had already been put back in place. So to many of us, the rage and anger over Sammy Hagar’s classic hit was lost on us, and was just another excuse for us to bang our heads and shake our mullets.
Of course, no matter how high the speed limit is ever set, there will still be those who are not happy and choose to go all Sammy Hagar over some poor highway patrolman who pulled them over for doing 95 in rush hour traffic. But for most of us, we can live with the more reasonable speed limits that our respective states have now posted thanks to the end of the well-intentioned, but poorly thought out 55 federal maximum. And we here at The Nest would like to take this time to salute our forward thinking forefathers of the 1970’s, who brought us two decades of highway frustration all for the cost of maybe saving a couple lives and/or a gallon of gas or so. At least it was a day where we were only worried about how speed was going to kill us, and not technological advances combined with human dumbassery…