By Paul Nussbaum
Following a national trend, Pennsylvania drivers would be legally permitted to drive 70 miles per hour on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and other interstate highways, under a proposal made Friday by state Sen. Joseph Scarnati (R., Jefferson).
Such a move would return speed limits to the level they had been before 1974, when Congress enacted the National Maximum Speed Law, prohibiting speed limits higher than 55 mph, as a move to save gas in response to the 1973 oil embargo.
That law was repealed in 1995, and Pennsylvania set its maximum speed limit at 65 mph. The speed limit on urban interstates, such as I-95 through Philadelphia and the Schuylkill Expressway, is 55 mph.
When the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940, it had no posted speed limit. A speed limit of 70 mph was set in April, 1941.
Now, 34 states have maximum speed limits of 70 mph or higher, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Neighboring Ohio and West Virginia have 70-mph limits, while New Jersey and New York remain at 65.
Scarnati said in a memo to fellow senators that he was seeking cosponsors for a bill he will introduce soon to hike the speed limit.
He said "increasing Pennsylvania's maximum speed limit on interstate highways and the turnpike will allow for better traffic flow and more efficient delivery of goods and services throughout the Commonwealth."
Scarnati said new automobile technology and other safety improvements have led to fewer traffic deaths, even as states have raised their speed limits.
In Pennsylvania, there were 1,310 traffic fatalities in 2012, 24 more than in 2011. The fewest deaths since 1944 were recorded in 2009, when 1,256 people were killed in vehicle crashes in the state.