Senator wants to start debate on resurrecting 55 mph to save gas

Is the double-nickel speed limit ready for a comeback?

Congress thus far has shown no movement toward resurrecting the 55 mph speed limit, but one of the Senate's senior members – Republican John Warner of Virginia – says it's time to start the conversation about an energy-saving national speed limit to help Americans offset rising fuel costs.

The 55 mph limit was imposed by federal law during the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, remained in effect for 20 years and ultimately was booted off the roadways by Congress in 1995 amid near-universal contempt among motorists.

Warner hasn't specified what a new limit should be, but he points out that Americans saved 167,000 barrels of petroleum a day when the 55 mph speed limit was in effect. He told fellow senators this week that he'll probably proceed with legislation after the Energy Department determines the most fuel-efficient speed limit for the nation's highways.

“We have to take the lead in Congress, and hopefully the president will join,” Warner said on the Senate floor. “We have that duty.”

Among those joining the call for a national speed limit are truckers, who've been hammered by diesel fuel costs expected to reach $135 billion this year, $22 billion more than last year.

American Trucking Associations, which represents 3.5 million truck drivers and 37,000 trucking companies, is asking Washington to set a national limit of 65 mph. A 10-mile reduction from 75 mph, spokesman Clayton Boyce said, would lower fuel consumption by 27 percent.

Since 55 was abolished as the national speed limit, states have been free to set their own. The limit in most states, according to the American Automobile Association, is 65 or 70, and several states allow 75. In desolate stretches of far West Texas, motorists are allowed to do 80. Both North Carolina and South Carolina allow 70 mph on rural interstates.

In Congress, the idea of reinstituting a national speed limit was below the radar for most lawmakers until Warner began endorsing it. Many lawmakers, particularly those from big states, are likely to be unwilling to resurrect any variation of a highway law that the driving public widely condemned and ultimately ignored.