In Texas It Will Soon Be Legal to Drive at the Wind Speed of a Category 1 Hurricane

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The German Autobahn. There is no speed limit. (Photo CC by Flickr user myfear)

As the saying goes, 'everything is bigger in Texas,' and soon that will apply to the speed limit. The Texas Transportation Commission approved a new maximum speed limit of 85 m.p.h. That will make the Lone Star State the lone state with claim to the highest speed limit in the nation when it is implemented in November. As the Los Angeles Times points out, that means you can legally drive faster than hurricane force winds.

The first stretch of road slated for the speedy honor will be a 41-mile stretch of brand new toll road set for completion in November connecting Austin to Seguin.

It seems that money is at least partly a motivator in pushing the limit, according to this from the AP:

"The state contract with the toll operator allows the state to collect a $67 million up-front cash payment or a percentage of the toll profits in the future if the speed limit is 80 m.p.h. or lower. At 85 m.p.h., the cash payment balloons to $100 million or a higher percentage of toll revenues.

"Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Veronica Beyer says "we must continue to look for innovative ways to generate revenue and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.""

There is no federal speed limit. Utah and some sections of Texas road currently have the highest posted speed limit in the U.S. at 80 m.p.h. Years back, Montana experimented with a speed limit of "reasonable and prudent" during daylight hours. That amounted to no speed limit at all to many motorists. Eventually a driver appealed a speeding ticket and won, which led to the law being struck down and replaced with a 75 m.p.h. limit.

Naturally, safety advocates aren't so thrilled with the idea of a national creep towards an American Autobahn. Accidents are more deadly the faster you are going. However, as this National Highway Transportation Safety Administration report shows, speeding is different from going fast. There is a heap of academic guidance on how to set a safe speed limit based on road conditions. Texas has determined that on this new stretch of road, 85 m.p.h. is safe. As this 1992 study found, most people drive how fast they will drive, regardless of the speed limit, though ticketing does spike when you lower the limit ... and that could help keep driving safe.

No word yet if ticket revenues were also factored into the Texas decision. The transportation commissioners haven't issued a comment about the change.