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Is there a US state with no speed limit?

City Limits

City Limits Index

City Limits Index

The tool or combination of tools a city uses will depend on their authority to set speed limits. In some cases, state law already grants cities authority to set speed limits that comply with the guidance in City Limits. In others, state departments of transportation or state legislation determines statewide speed limit setting requirements. In the absence of legislative or administrative requirements, city authority depends on engineering practice or law at the city level.

If the city has…

State-granted authority to lower speed limits through a locally-defined process or across many streets at once.

> If possible, start by setting citywide default speed limits at 25 mph or below.

> If desired or more politically feasible, set default speed limits by category of street (e.g., 25 mph on arterials, 20 mph on non-arterials).

> Use a Safe Speed Study to lower speed limits below the citywide or category default on high-crash or otherwise high priority corridors. Consider using a Safe Speed Study to evaluate a batch of similar streets to lower speed limits on many streets of one type all at once (e.g., local streets).

> Designate slow zones. Slow zones can be linear (along a street) or cover all streets within a specific neighborhood or business district.

> If state or local legislation prevents any of the above, but conducting Safe Speed Studies and lowering default limits is desired, seek the authority to do so.

If the city has…

Limited authority to lower speed limits using a locally-defined process or across many streets at once.

> Seek a written change in practice (leveraging City Limits may help).

> Request that some streets be exempt from the 85th percentile requirement (e.g., streets near schools or other sensitive areas like parks or neighborhood downtowns).

> Once the authority is established, see actions to left.

Cities that have authority to set default speed limits have a number of options to improve safety on their streets. In some cities, setting the default limit citywide is the most effective approach. Citywide defaults provide a uniform, predictable limit that applies everywhere. They are relatively easy to implement and easy to explain to the public. Citywide limits can be combined with slow zones and with corridor limits on specific corridors to address conditions where a speed lower than the citywide default is necessary.

In cities where there is clear differentiation between major arterial streets and local or minor streets, cities may choose to set speeds by street type or category. Category-based limits allow cities to address significantly different street contexts but still create a predictable regulatory environment for drivers. Like citywide defaults, category-based defaults can be combined with slow zones and with corridor limits on specific streets.

In some states, cities do not have explicit authority to set their own default speed limits. These cities have different playbooks for aligning speed limits with their safety goals.

In states where the process for engineering studies is not codified in state law or practice, cities have asked for (or assumed) permission to use a locally-defined process such as the Safe Speed Study method, that is different from the 85th percentile method. In some cases, cities have used this same tactic to set default citywide or category-based speed limits by conducting “bulk studies” on a representative sample of similar streets in order to assess the appropriate speed for that category of street.

In the states where jurisdictions must set speed limits on most streets based on 85th percentile speeds, some cities have requested exemption from using the 85th percentile for specific streets (for example, streets identified in a high-injury network analysis). In these places, robust crash, fatality, and injury data collection is particularly important to make the case for exemptions.

In almost all states, cities have authority to create school slow zones. For example, in California, which codifies the use of the 85th percentile method to determine and enforce speed limits on streets across the state, the Vehicle Code allows all local jurisdictions to lower speeds in school zones that meet specific criteria. In 2019, Sacramento used this authority to reduce speed limits from 25 to 15 mph on 225 street segments across the city, even without the explicit authority to reduce default speeds citywide.

EDITORIAL: Highways can handle higher speed limit


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Admit it. Many of us already drive faster than the 65 mph speed limit on area highways.

While keeping within an extra 5 or 10 mph of the speed limit trying to avoid a speeding ticket, most of us manage to do it safely.

Our cars these days are geared toward driving at higher speeds, with more safety features and better tires. Onboard computers help us maintain a uniform speed, correct us when we drift out of our lanes, alert us to other vehicles in our blind spots, help us better control our vehicles when we’re trying to avoid a crash, and better manage our gas mileage.

After 30 years under a 65 mph speed limit, it’s time for New York lawmakers to allow us to travel a bit faster, by raising the maximum speed limit to 70 mph or even 75. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara last week proposed legislation (A5044/S2209) to raise the limit to 70 mph on 17 roadways, including portions of the Thruway and Adirondack Northway.

New York would join 40 other states that allow drivers to go faster than 65 on all or parts of rural interstates. That list includes wide open states like Texas, Montana and the Dakotas, but also more congested states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland and Virginia.

Studies are mixed about whether higher speed limits on highways significantly impact safety. Of course, higher speeds result in more violent collisions; that’s physics. But some studies have shown the negative impact on safety is negligible when the speed limit is raised from 65 to 70.

While the higher speed limit should pose no problems for large portions of state highways, there are places where the 65 mph speed limit should remain in place. Only 21 states allow speed limits over 65 on highways in urban areas.

As with any highway, road conditions should factor into whether to raise the speed limit. For instance, there are portions of some highways that narrow or curve or rise and fall, for which a higher speed limit would be unsafe.

Also consider that drivers will naturally exceed the higher limit, as they do with the 65 mph limit, meaning cars facing a 70 mph limit might push their speeds to 80, a potentially more dangerous situation. To curb that, lawmakers should consider boosting enforcement and penalties for drivers who exceed the new higher speed limit.

And of course, drivers always need to adjust their speed to the condition of the road, weather, traffic and highway construction, regardless of what the speed limit sign says.

Highways and vehicles have come a long way in the past 30 years.

Our speed limits should reflect those changes.


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A fascinating map of global speed limits

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

This map — a color-coded guide to the speed limits in countries and certain states — shows some interesting distinctions:

speed limits around the world

The red-bordered numbers list kilometers per hours; the black ones are miles per hour. (Amateria1121)

Bear in mind that it’s listing the fastest speed limit in each the area, not the average. For example, Texas State Highway 130 has a speed-limit of 85 miles per hour. That’s an outlier for Texas highways, but because it’s the highest limit in the whole state, Texas shows up as blue on the above map.

There are only two big places on the map with no speed limit roads: Australia’s Northern Territory and Germany. The Northern Territory has gone back and forth on this question: in 2007, it imposed a mandatory speed limit after many years of legal unlimited speeding. But, just this year, the local government changed its mind, reintroducing no-speed-limit rules on select highways. While the government is touting the experiment as a success, Australian experts are warning that the roads there aren’t equipped for crazy speedsters.

But are any roads safe for unlimited speeding? That’s the debate now in Germany. On the one hand, the country prides itself on the famously well-constructed Autobahn highways. «Germans seem to regard it as a basic human right to get into their BMWs,» the BBC’s Stephen Evans reports, «and scorch down the autobahn at warp speed.» On the other hand, the evidence that putting speed limits on German roads would save lives is very, very strong.

For now, the anti-speed limit side is carrying the debate. During the 2013 German election, Social Democratic Party Chairman Sigmar Gabriel proposed putting speed limits on the Autobahn. Virtually no one backed the suggestion — including inside his own left-wing party.

But speed limits are hardly the most important road safety issue. Virtually all of the countries with the highest per capita rates of deaths from car accidents are in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, just seven percent of nations worldwide «have comprehensive road safety laws on five key risk factors: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints.» Given that there were about 1.25 million people road deaths in 2013, figuring out how to improve global road quality is a major issue.

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