As dawn broke Friday over the plains of eastern Montana, the Big Sky State became the Sky's the Limit State again.
Though their vehicular spirits were dampened a bit by subzero temperatures and swirling snow, drivers across Montana regained their freedom to put the pedal to the metal, reveling anew in their state's unique status as the only place in America with no daytime speed limit for motorists.
Twenty-one years after the state bowed to a congressional directive to impose a speed limit or lose federal highway funds, Montana reverted to the good old days--or to some, the bad old days. The starting flag dropped at sunrise, two weeks after Congress approved legislation repealing the federally imposed 55-mph limit set after the 1973 oil embargo (since raised to 65 on some interstates).
On a frozen morning, Montana motorists were slow to take advantage of their new freedom. On a one-hour patrol of interstates 90 and 94, Highway Patrol Lt. Janet Baker found to her surprise that most cars stuck to the high 60s and 70s, while one carefree celebrant clocked in at 95. "There might be a lot of radar detectors at the pawnshops today," she joked.
While some of its more cautious neighbors have raised their speed limits to a modest 70 or 75, Montana has gone full bore. Drivers here will have to abide by nighttime restrictions, 65 mph on the interstates and 55 on two-lane roads, which are sensible precautions in a state where nighttime speeders risk acquiring a mule deer or open-range black angus as a hood ornament.