How fast is too fast on America's freeways?

Texas may soon have the fastest highway in America.  Okay, forget those crowded Dallas and Houston roadways, where traffic snarls often match the worst in the nation.  But out on the open prairie, motorists may soon be given the green light to let the speedo swing to 85.

The state already permits driving at up to 80 mph on about 520 miles of interstate.  But the Texas House has approved a measure that would bump the state’s top speed up another 5 mph.

“They have high-speed roadways in Europe, and there could be some merit in having some of those highways in Texas,” said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, who introduced the bill. “Given the right engineering, we should consider it.”

The measure is now being taken up by the Texas Senate, which is leaning towards approval, as is Gov. Rick Perry, a get-the-government-off-my-back Republican.

But there is some strong opposition, not only from law enforcement but also the insurance industry, which has long argued that speed kills.

“Eighty-five mph is simply too fast to drive even on a flat road. Any little hitch can cause an accident at that speed. There is still traffic on those roads, and to drive 85 mph is simply ludicrous,” asserted Jerry Johns, of the Southwestern Insurance Information Service.

Proponents counter that the same argument was used when federal lawmakers were debating the move to eliminate the so-called “double-nickel,” or 55 mph speed limit, and later when Washington was being asked to grant states the right to set their own limits.

In fact, U.S. highway deaths have fallen significantly since those changes were enacted, dropping to 33,808 last year, the lowest figure since 1949, even though the number of miles Americans drove rose.  (Click Here for more on the latest highway fatality news.)

In the wake of the twin 1980s oil shocks Congress sharply reduced speed limits, and though near-record oil prices have some advocates calling for lower speeds once again there seems little interest among consumers or regulators.

Ironically, new questions are being raised about just how much longer Germany will maintain the open Autobahn.  A sizable share of the German freeway network now is regulated, and with the Green Party having won a key election, the state of Baden-Wurtemberg may cut the limit within its borders to 120 kmh, or 75 mph – a setback for makers Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, both of whom are headquartered in the state.  (Click Here for more.)

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