Bill Ending U.S. Speed, Helmet Demands OKd
The House on Saturday gave final passage to legislation that frees states of federal speed limits and removes penalties on states that do not have laws requiring motorcycle helmets.
The House passed the final bill without debate in fewer than two minutes under “unanimous consent” procedures that would have allowed one member to block it.
Republican and Democratic leaders approved the procedure despite a weeks-long campaign by safety, insurance and public interest groups, which said it would lead to increased highway deaths.
The Senate passed the bill, 80 to 16, on Friday. President Clinton is expected to reject calls to veto it, partly because it releases $6.5 billion in highway funds that have been frozen since Oct. 1. Under previous legislation, that was the deadline for Congress to designate a new National Highway System.
The bill approved Saturday started out to do just that. But the measure began to gather additions quickly, many of them with a strong states-rights flavor.
In addition to ending federally imposed speed limits and helmet laws, it would relieve states of numerous other requirements, such as installing highway signs designating distances metrically and using old tire rubber in highway construction.
Federal speed limit requirements, which date to 1974, hold speeds on all highways to 55 m.p.h., except for rural interstates and certain other limited-access rural highways that are allowed a 65 m.p.h. limit.
Effective 10 days after a presidential signature on the bill, states would be free to set any speed limit.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, one of the groups opposing the bill, said nine states have laws providing automatic speed limit increases if federal regulations are removed: California, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas (70 m.p.h.); Kansas, Nevada and Wyoming (75 m.p.h.); and Montana (no limit).