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No Speed Limits? California Considering Faster Lanes on Two Highways

Automobile logo Automobile 2/19/2019 Erik Johnson
a drawing of a person: speed limit sign© Automobile Magazine Staff speed limit sign

California state senator John Moorlach (R-Orange County) has introduced a bill to that state's legislature that would see two lanes added to both north- and southbound Interstate 5 and State Route 99 that would have no posted speed limit.

SB319 does not itself state the specific stretches of road where the lanes would be added, but local reports indicate the lanes would run from Stockton to Bakersfield, a distance of approximately 240 miles via I-5 or 230 miles via CA-99.

While some reports tout the lanes as "unlimited," the bill would implement a functional limit of 100 mph, with a first violation for exceeding that speed resulting in a fine of $500, a second within three years a fine of $750, and a third within five years a fine of $1000 and the suspension of that driver's license.

a sign on the side of a road© Automobile Magazine Staff

According to the bill, money for construction of the lanes would be drawn from California's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. Moorlach doesn't give an estimated cost for the project, but says that the state already owns the right of way necessary for the lanes. The bill is being pitched as a way to cut idling in traffic and therefore reduce greenhouse gases, as well as a quicker and more easily implemented solution to easing gridlock than a high-speed rail line also under consideration and projected to be completed in 2033.

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Moorlach also defends his proposal as safer. "If you look at what's happening in Germany, the freeway accidents on the autobahn are a lot less than what's happening on our roads." Neither the bill nor Moorlach have so far addressed driver training that may be necessary for drivers unaccustomed to traveling at autobahn speeds. Germany's more rigorous and expensive driver's training system makes acquiring a license somewhat more difficult than is typical in the United States. Additionally, there is no detail as to whether there would be a minimum speed limit for the lanes or if they would be kept separate from other lanes where the speed limit would remain 65 mph. SB319 also contains a "stay right except to pass" lane-discipline clause, however.

The highest posted speed limit in the United States is currently 85 mph, on a 41-mile section of State Highway 130 in Texas. Montana had no daytime speed limit until 1974, when the federal 55-mph limit was passed, and again from that law's repeal in December 1995 until the enactment of a 75-mph limit in May 1999.

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