Speed Limits Back to Where They Were in 1970!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In the Department of Good News:

Virginia and several other states are in the process of legalizing higher speed limits. VA’s Governor, Bob McDonnell, signed a new law raising the max to 70 mph from the current 65 mph on certain sections of Virginia highways. 

In the Department of Bad News: This brings us back to 1970, when the maximum legal speed on Virginia highways was also 70 mph.

Ah, progress.

After 40 years, we’re back to where we started from. 

But a question comes to mind: If it was safe (assuming so, because it was legal, after all) to do 70 mph in 1970 – in a 1970 model car, probably with drum brakes, bias-belted tires and no electronic safety aids whatsoever – then surely it’s safer to go faster today, after 40 years of technical advances in vehicle design…  right? 

The current average speed on most American highways is around 70 mph already. Making this the “limit” is ridiculous because a limit ought to mean the fastest reasonably safe speed – not the average flow of traffic. 

Given 40 years of advances in vehicle design, a limit that’s 5-10 percent higher than the current average 70-ish flow of traffic – what the engineers call the 85th percentile speed – would surely be reasonable.  

Let’s say 75-80 mph.

Is it crazy? Reckless?

Shouldn’t a speed limit mean the maximum safe speed under ideal conditions; in other words, a speed considerably higher than the average or 85th percentile speed? 

Instead, we’re saddled with speed limits that are synonymous with the routine speed at which most cars happen to be traveling. This implies that a higher speed could still be within reason (and safe) for some drivers, in some cars, under certain (ideal) conditions.

A speed limit that correlates with the average flow of traffic, on the other hand, is only a limit in the sense that it’s a legalism – an excuse to mulct motorists who exceed it.

Which of course is exactly what we have.

To claim that driving even a single mph faster than 70 on a highway such as Virginia’s I-81 (especially in the rural parts of the state, where traffic is fairly light) is “unsafe” – period – is not just nonsense, it’s obvious nonsense – exactly the same as the old Drive 55 spiel was nonsense. 

Everyone knew it was a farce. When you got pulled over and were issued a ticket for driving 62 (or whatever) you knew it was bullshit. You felt no moral guilt. Because it was obvious  that your speed was either unreasonable nor unsafe. Hell, it had been legal to do 70 just a few years before! Did the exact same highways suddenly become dangerous to drive on at a higher speed by dint of a lawmaker’s pen? Of course not. 

Your only failure was not noticing the cop with the radar gun in time to slow down.

So this new (but really not) 70 mph “limit” in Virginia (and elsewhere)  is no different.

People already drive faster, routinely – precisely because it is routine to drive faster than 70 mph in a modern car, on an Interstate highway designed for safe average speeds of 70-75 mph. People forget this. The Interstate system was built specifically to accommodate average speeds of 70-75 mph – and this assumed 1950s-era cars/technology. Now factor in 50 years of car development – everything from modern high-speed radial tires to fully independent suspensions, four-wheel-disc brakes and all the electronic safety equipment, from ABS to stability control. Is it not ridiculous that we’re still talking about limits that aren’t even as high as the average speeds planned for by the engineers who designed these highways more than half a century ago? Is it any wonder that drivers routinely ignore the posted limit? Are that many drivers “unsafe”? Or is the average driver simply expressing his contempt for a stupid (and corrupt) system with his right foot?

It’s all pretty silly.

Or it would be, if American motorists weren’t constantly harassed as a result – under the clearly ridiculous pretense that they’re guilty of dangerous “speeding” by driving faster than a limit that’s lower than the average speeds intended for these highways almost 60 years ago – and must be stopped, else all sorts of mayhem will ensue. Bodies will litter the shoulders burned out hulks will glow at night; the children!

What about the children!

A speed limit – properly defined – would be at least 5 and perhaps as much as 10 percent higher than the 85th percentile or average speed on any given road, factoring in weather, the condition of the road and so on.

Ballpark-wise, that would suggest a limit of around 80 mph on most Virginia highways – and probably nationwide.

You’d know it was a limit, too, because most cars would not be driving that fast. Perhaps 10-20 percent of all traffic.

Hey, Presto! Words would have meaning again.

Cruise-controlling at 70 mph with 80-plus percent of the other cars on the road would be just what we all know it to be: Going with the proverbial flow. To describe that as driving at the maximum safe speed should qualify the speaker for a semester of remedial English. Or, let’s at least change the terminology. If we can’t have legitimate speed limits, let’s call violations something honest such as “speed tax.” We’d still have to pony up, but at least we could dispense with the groaning, eye-rolling lectures about “safety” from cops, judges – and most of all, insurance companies.

That’s probably the worst part about the current system. As bad as the fines are, having to pretend we did something wrong – as when ginning up absurd apologias for  the cop, or groveling before some judge in the hope of getting him to reduce the charge – that’s a form of degradation that it would be glorious to rid ourselves of.

Even if we still have to pay up.


  1. I’ve been running a V1 for years without a problem. I mount it using a quick-release Velcro pad instead of the factory-supplied suction cups. This keeps the unit “low profile” and the cord out of sight. It is virtually impossible for a cop to see the detector when it is mounted this way, at least not from a moving car.

    When the unit alerts me to the presence of a cop, I snatch it off the dash. The V1 is sensitive enough to find the cop in plenty of time for me to do this.

    Keep in mind, also, that the ban is actually a boon for those brave enough to say, “fuck you!” to “the law.” Most people are sheep; so the cops assume most people don’t have a detector. So they’re not looking for them – and their tactics assume most people are running blind, too.

    Just be sure to get a good unit. This is not something to cheap out on. The V1 is arguably the best detector on the market. I recommend it highly.

  2. Yep. I once heard a cop actually defend feeble/elderly drivers who create rolling roadblocks by driving much slower than the posted limit (yet never move off to the shoulder to let those cars get by). He said, “we’ll all be old someday.” Apparently, impaired/dangerous driving is ok… provided you’re old.

    • Impaired and Dangerous Driving is ok, but do 1 mph over the speed limit and you’re treated worse then if you murdered somebody. It’s even worse if you have a Radar Detector.

  3. Agree 100 percent; licensing standards for new drivers are way too loose. It would improve “safety” a hell of a lot more if we weeded out the marginal/inept drivers instead of focusing all the attention on people driving faster than a number posted on a sign – which may have absolutely noting to do with whether they’re driving safely. Driving skill varies considerably, like any other skill in life. The problem is we’ve established a minimum threshold that’s so low, any competent/decently skilled driver is frustrated by it – and so is often in technical violation of the law; he “speeds,” he executes a fast pass over the double yellow – and so on.

    Even though such a driver is “breaking the law,” he’s probably a safer driver than the inept driver who never drives faster than the posted limit, but obstructs the flow of traffic by driving well below the limit, refuses to yield to faster moving traffic – and so on – but never gets a ticket.

    The whole thing’s idiotic – from the standpoint of “safety.”

    From the standpoint of collecting revenue, though, it works very well!

    • All of the laws and fines are not about making the roads safer, it’s about how much money can be made. The Radar Detector Ban in Virginia has nothing to do with SAFETY. The roads in Virginia are no safer then 49 states that allow Radar Detectors.

      As for the unsafe drivers. Driving at a higher speed then that posted does not make for an unsafe driver. I’ve seen more unsafe drivers, driving at low speed. I’ve seen drivers, driving 10-15 mph under the speed limit on the interstate, they think they are being safe…they are a hazard to other drivers, yet the police will not stop them.

    • I know you posted this three years ago, so maybe you’ve changed your stance, but if not… how do you justify requiring permission from the government to drive?

  4. I think we need better drivers education (not just in high school, but for all drivers). Anybody 18 years old or older can go into a DMV get a learners permit go drive with that for a few days and then go back and get a drivers licensee with no proof of training.

    We also need to stop the propaganda. I get sick of hearing speed kills.I have driven at some high speed and I’ still here. People doing something dumb is what kills on the highway. Driving a few miles per hour over the posted speed limit is not deadly unless you hit something. Most road deaths happen at speed 55mph or lower. I seen people die in crashes the happened at no more then 35mph.

    As for the dumb drivers, They should be taken off of the roads. I was driving south on I-81, following a mini-van near Roanoke coming up on an exit on the left side of the road. I know the driver was about to do something dumb. They past the exit and then turned left and stopped in the left lane of the highway. I do not know if the got off of the road or got hit by the 18 wheeler that was coming.


  5. Eric, once I would have agreed with you on setting speed limits even higher when accounting for the greater capabilities and safety of today’s cars, BUT…

    1. Most highways have much more traffic and are typically far beyond rated traffic capacity during daylight and early evening hours.

    2. This traffic has a far higher percentage of heavy trucks than was the case in 1970. I-81 in particular is all too often wall-to-wall tractor-trailers when I’m on it.

    3. Most importantly, driver skills have grossly deteriorated in my judgement. Too many distractions such as navigation systems, cell phones, texting, etc., etc., combined with people who have received even poorer training than that from the sorry driver’s ed classes we remember from years ago. Far more elderly and handicapped people who cannot follow basic rules such as keeping right unless passing are on the roads today. Nuts who will do stupid stuff to you after succumbing to road rage were nonexistent in 1970. And so on and so forth…

    As much as I’d like to see limits of 80 mph or beyond, it just doesn’t seem like a good idea when I sit and think about it.

    • Much as I hate to concede all your points above, I have to do just that. However, I still object to the good (competent) drivers – and such do exist – being dumbed down (that is, subject to speed limits well below what they can handle) because of the growing number of nimrods out there. Society can’t function on the principle that everything must be constantly lowered to the level of the least common denominator. We’ll have a real life Idiocracy if we go down that road….

      I propose this solution instead:

      Higher speed limits, but harsh punishments (mandatory “remedial ed” driver training with loss of driving privileges until one successfully completes said training) for any at-fault accident. This is simple – and fair – because unlike radar traps and under-posted speed limits – punishment is only meted out against specific drivers who have given clear, incontrovertible proof that their driving was subpar. “Accidents” are mostly the product of human error. Tailgating; carrying too much speed for conditions (or your ability)… and so on.

      But “speeding” doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about how well (or not) you were driving. There are plenty of drivers who are safer at 80 or 90 than some drivers are at 55. Why target them for punishment simply for driving faster than a number posted on a sign? Why not punish people who actually cause problems – by causing actual accidents?

      What do you think?

  6. I’m in Va and I never leave my driveway without my V1. It has saved me from getting literally a dozen or more tickets in the past three years alone.

    Driving is pleasant again!

  7. As you may know, Virginia is the only state that bans the use and sale of detectors. There is no evidence that the detector ban increases highway safety. Our nation’s fatality rates have fallen consistently for almost two decades. Virginia’s fatality rate has also fallen, but not any more dramatically than it has nationwide. Research has even shown that radar detector owners have a lower accident rate than motorists who do not own a detector.

    Maintaining the ban is not in the best interest of Virginians or visitors to the state. I know and know of people that will not drive in Virginia due to this ban. Unjust enforcement practices are not unheard of, and radar detectors can keep safe motorists from being exploited by abusive speed traps. Likewise, the ban has a negative impact on Virginia’s business community. Electronic distributors lose business to neighboring states and Virginia misses out on valuable sales tax revenue.

    Radar detector bans do not work. Research and experience show that radar detector bans do not result in lower accident rates, improved speed-limit compliance or reduce auto insurance expenditures.
    • The Virginia radar detector ban is difficult and expensive to enforce. The Virginia ban diverts precious law enforcement resources from more important duties.
    • Radar detectors are legal in the rest of the nation, in all 49 other states. In fact, the first state to test a radar detector ban, Connecticut, repealed the law – it ruled the law was ineffective and unfair. It is time for our Virginia to join the rest of the nation.
    • It has never been shown that radar detectors cause accidents or even encourage motorists to drive faster than they would otherwise. The Yankelovich – Clancy – Shulman Radar Detector Study conducted in 1987, showed that radar detector users drove an average of 34% further between accidents (233,933 miles versus 174,554 miles) than non radar detector users. The study also showed that they have much higher seat belt use compliance. If drivers with radar detectors have fewer accidents, it follows that they have reduced insurance costs – it is counterproductive to ban radar detectors.
    • In a similar study performed in Great Britain by MORI in 2001 the summary reports that “Users (of radar detectors) appear to travel 50% further between accidents than non-users. In this survey the users interviewed traveling on average 217,353 miles between accidents compared to 143,401 miles between accidents of those non-users randomly drawn from the general public.” The MORI study also reported “Three quarters agree, perhaps unsurprisingly, that since purchasing a radar detector they have become more conscious about keeping to the speed limit…” and “Three in five detector users claim to have become a safer driver since purchasing a detector.”
    • Modern radar detectors play a significant role in preventing accidents and laying the technology foundation for the Safety Warning System® (SWS). Radar detectors with SWS alert motorists to oncoming emergency vehicles, potential road hazards, and unusual traffic conditions. There are more than 10 million radar detectors with SWS in use nationwide. The federal government has earmarked $2.1 million for further study of the SWS over a three-year period of time. The U.S. Department of Transportation is administering grants to state and local governments to purchase the SWS system and study its effectiveness (for example, in the form of SWS transmitters for school buses and emergency vehicles). The drivers of Virginia deserve the right to the important safety benefits that SWS delivers.

    Please sign this petition and help to repeal this ban and give drivers in Virginia the freedom to know if they are under surveillance and to use their property legally:




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here