Despite predictions of increased death on the highways, the House voted Wednesday to let states set their own speed limits and decide whether motorcyclists should wear helmets.
House supporters of the measure argued that states are more familiar with their own roads and should be given the leeway to determine what speeds are safe.
If enacted, the bill would leave Montana with no general daytime speed limit. That is because the Montana Legislature stipulated the state limits would last only as long as the federal mandate existd. Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., voted to repeal the national speed limit.
The provision is part of a larger highway bill that also would require states to impose much tougher rules on alcohol consumption by drivers under age 21.
The overall measure was approved 419-7, but the lopsided tally did not reflect the level of opposition to the speed-limit provision.
Earlier in the day, the House voted 313-112 to reject an amendment that would have retained the national speed limit, which first was set at 55 mph in 1973 and was modified in 1987 to allow 65 mph traffic on rural stretches of interstate and divided highways.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of insurance and consumer groups, said the action marks the first time Congress has approved a highway bill that will kill more people than it saves.
“It should be obvious that the death toll will rise once the states begin increasing the speed limits under the provisions of the bill,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. “This is not a matter of states’ rights; it’s a matter of human rights.”
The Senate voted in June to strike the national maximum speed limits for cars and light trucks but voted to retain them for large trucks and buses. The differences between the House and Senate measures will be worked out in conference committee.
xxxx Highway bill Other provisions of the bill: Repeal the requirement that states use recycled rubber crumbs in their highways. Exempt farmers from the limits on how long commercial drivers can work during harvest season. Restore to the states about $1 billion in 1996 highway funding that would have been blocked because of excessive spending in past years. Drop the requirement for states to use metric measurements on highway signs. Require states to set strict limits on underage drinkers who drive. Teen limit is a fourth of the alcohol allowed for adults.