NJ Keeps MPH Low As Neighbors Speed Through

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -

Motorists breezing through parts of Pennsylvania as of last month are able to set their cruise control at 70 mph without having to worry about getting a speeding ticket, joining 37 states with a speed limit of 70 mph or higher.

But New Jersey will remain in the slow lane, the state Department of Transportation says.

With some highways in Texas, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming allowing drivers to zoom up to 80 or 85 mph, there are not even discussions in the Legislature to increase the speed limit from 65 mph on any highways or the state’s three toll roads.

NJDOT spokesman Steve Schapiro said that New Jersey’s dense population and heavy truck traffic are key reasons why the state has no plans to raise the speed limit.

“New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and one of the most heavily traveled states,” he said. “As the primary corridor in the Northeast, New Jersey has a high percentage of truck traffic.”

From 1974 to 1998, New Jersey’s speed limit was a leisurely 55 mph. In 1998, the limit was finally raised to 65 mph on some state highways as well as the expressway, parkway and turnpike.

The 55 mph limit was enacted by Congress in 1974 as a conservation measure in response to the worldwide oil crisis that caused severe gasoline shortages. To back up the law, Congress ordered the U.S. to withhold federal highway funds from states that did not adopt the 55 mph limit.

After gas shortages eased and studies showed that most motorists were exceeding 55 mph, Congress allowed states beginning in 1987 to increase speed limits on rural interstates to 65 mph. Forty states acted quickly to raise the limit. New Jersey was one of the states that retained the 55 mph limit until then-Gov. Christie Whitman gave the green light to raising it to 65 mph in 1998.

Steve Carrellas, New Jersey representative for the National Motorists Association, predicted it is just a matter of time before the state goes to 70 mph. He argued that 85 percent of New Jersey motorists are already driving faster than 65 mph, so it would make sense to raise the legal limit.

Carrellas dismissed the “myth” that a 70 mph limit would encourage motorists to drive much faster. He argued that 70 mph is in line with the ordinary flow of traffic on most New Jersey highways.

“You have to have a realistic speed limit to reflect that,” he said of traffic flow.