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Montanabahn: Where Speedy Drivers Go To Fly

Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Revi

Having just returned from a vacation to Montana, I want to say how much I enjoyed the fact that Montana has no speed limit.

I didn’t always feel this way. Once, I thought speed limits were worthwhile. I used to think: Is it really a good idea to allow some charged-up yahoo to race at warp speed through Butte, Bozeman, Billings and other B-cities? I have now come to the conclusion: Sure. Why shouldn’t I?

Before I go any further, let me share with you the letter I received from Montana’s Office of the Governor the last time I wrote that “Montana has no speed limit.”

“Dear Jim,” it began, “it is incorrect for anyone to say that Montana has no speed limits. It is correct to say that Montana has no numerical speed limit for automobiles during daylight hours on the Interstate. By day, Montana’s Interstate automobile speed limit is called ‘the Basic Rule.’ This rule requires speeds that are ‘reasonable and prudent,’ meaning the daytime automobile speed limit on the Interstate is what is ‘reasonable and prudent’ according to weather and traffic conditions.”

Thank you, governor’s office, for clearing that up.

Anyway, like I was saying, Montana has no speed limit.

I doubly appreciated this fact this year, because not only did I just return from a vacation in Montana, I just returned from two vacations in Montana. The first vacation was a family vacation in which we zipped over to Big Timber (another B-city) to visit some friends and hang out at the Frosty Freeze.

I never had to worry about creeping one mile above the speed limit. I never had to worry about getting caught in some speed trap. I never had to worry about missing a speed limit sign and getting nailed with a $50 citation. I could just set the old cruise control and relax, maybe even drift off for a short nap between Anaconda and Deer Lodge.

On my second trip to Montana, I appreciated the reasonable and prudent rule even more. I was driving home from a backpacking trip in the Beartooth Mountains with Montana native and outdoors guru Rich Landers when suddenly we heard this thwap-thwap-thwap sound from the right front tire. I looked in my rear-view mirror to see a piece of tread bouncing along the road behind us.

Well, we soon learned that when you have a hunk of tread missing from your tire, “reasonable and prudent” is something just above walking speed. Now, in some states, a trooper might have pulled me over and said, “Son, do you have any idea how slow you were going back there? This ain’t Montana, you know. We got laws against slowness in this state.”

But in Montana, we were fully within the law. We were reasonable; we were prudent.

I will admit that there is a dark side to the Montana law. Several times on our drive through Montana we saw drivers who were clearly taking advantage of the speed laws.

“Wow,” said Landers. “Look at this guy coming up behind … Never mind. You missed him. He’s already in Missoula.”

Believe me, you have never had a true Montana experience until you have been passed by a Ford F-250 pickup going 125 mph.

It’s nice to be in a state that trusts people to use their own good sense, but the trouble is, people don’t have any.

For this reason, a few Montana state lawmakers want to reinstate a Montana speed limit. Yes, Governor, I know, you already have a speed limit, but these legislators actually want a speed limit with a number.

The statistics show that Montana highway fatalities are up 27 percent this year. Nobody knows exactly why, but some people believe that it could have something to do with Ford pickups exceeding the speed of light.

So, as much as I enjoyed the Basic Rule, I wouldn’t blame Montanans for being alarmed. And frankly, there’s one other thing that has been bothering me about Montana’s law. In other states, it is so much easier to nag your teenage kid from the back seat. You can yell, “Stop speeding! You’re over the speed limit!”

Somehow, yelling, “Be reasonable! Be prudent!” just doesn’t cut it. That kind of nagging has its limits, even when yelled at top speed.

, DataTimes MEMO: To leave a message on Jim Kershner’s voice-mail, call 459-5493. Or send e-mail to, or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

To leave a message on Jim Kershner’s voice-mail, call 459-5493. Or send e-mail to, or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

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