May 22, 2018
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Speed Limitless?

A proposal before the Legislature to allow the Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit to 75 mph on I-95 between Old Town and Houlton raises small and large questions that are the subject of this week’s The Maine Debate. Please join us on the Opinion page of between 10 a.m. and noon (and before and after) Tuesday, May 24, to discuss the issues.

Raising the speed limit on I-95 north of Old Town is a reasonable step. After all, DOT reports the average speed of motorists on this lightly traveled stretch of highway is close to 75 mph. Still, there are considerations that would give some pause. If 75 mph is the posted speed, many people will travel up to 10 mph faster; at those speeds, coming upon a slower moving vehicle or bad road conditions can prove deadly.

Furthermore, encouraging higher speeds means more fuel will be consumed. Studies show a steep drop-off in fuel efficiency at 60 mph and higher. Shouldn’t state policy encourage conservation?

The larger questions surround the role of government in ensuring responsible behavior. Are speed limits a sign of an over-intrusive government? Should prudence and common sense rule instead? Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who is running for president as a Libertarian-leaning Republican, has argued that “there are times and places where it would be perfectly safe to go 140 [mph].” He also noted that he is not opposed to the concept of red lights, but at 5:30 a.m. when there’s no one else on the road, it’s OK to drive through a stop light.

“That’s the first sign you know you’re a libertarian,” he has said. “You see the red light. You stop. You realize that there’s not a car in sight. And you put your foot on the gas.”

Is Gov. Johnson onto something? Or would the prudence and common sense standard make the job of law enforcement nearly impossible, giving officers far too much discretion? Does this discretion, then, become a libertarian’s worst nightmare?

The proposed 75 mph change on I-95 may be the first of many sensible rules and regulations that are relaxed without bad consequences. Or it may lead to reckless roll-backs. Join the discussion and let us know what you think and why.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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