History Lesson: National Maximum Speed Limit

Odometer (Legend):  528,802


Odometer (ILX):  69,050


I saw the below picture shared on Instagram recently.  It’s a high-mileage odometer shot from an older Honda Civic “Wagovan,” so naturally I was quite interested and I immediately liked the photo.  But, what caught me off-guard was one of the comments from this person’s followers.


“What’s the marker at 55 for?”  Oh, these young ones need to be educated!

What we’re talking about here is the National Maximum Speed Limit Law.  Enacted in 1974 in the United States, it prohibited highway speeds above 55 miles per hour.  The hope of legislators (Richard Nixon signed the provision) was that the gas savings would be substantial.  This was a time when gas shortages were at high tide.

As an emergency response to the 1973 oil crisis, on November 26, 1973, President Richard Nixon proposed a national 50 mph (80 km/h) speed limit for passenger vehicles and a 55 mph speed limit for trucks and buses. That, combined with a ban on ornamental lighting, no gasoline sales on Sunday, and a 15% cut in gasoline production, were proposed to reduce total gas consumption by 200,000 barrels a day, representing a 2.2% drop from annualized 1973 gasoline consumption levels.  Nixon partly based this on a belief that cars achieve maximum efficiency between 40 and 50 mph and that trucks and buses were most efficient at 55 mph.

Man, I’m sure glad I wasn’t of driving age in the 1970s and 1980s to experience this! Did you also know that between 1979 and 1981, federal legislation required that speedometers could only go up to 85 mph?

The National Maximum Speed Limit law saw some changes in the late 1980s, and in 1995 it was overturned entirely, giving speed-limit-setting power to the individual states.  Today, speed limits vary widely.  Rural stretches of Interstate 15 in my home state of Utah are now 80 miles per hour, and there’s a 41-mile stretch of toll road in Texas with an 85 mile per hour limit.  That’s quick!


Now you know 🙂

Tonight, my friend Justin and I attended the Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers basketball game at a Kia-sponsored event.  The view of the court was pretty sweet from our suite.


Though the game’s 104-to-96 Clippers win outcome was disappointing for us Suns fans, the company was great.  The other event invitees were fellow automotive journalists based in the Phoenix area.


I also had the privilege of meeting Orth Hedrick, Vice President of Product Planning at Kia.


Thanks to the folks at Kia for the invite!

3 Responses to “History Lesson: National Maximum Speed Limit”

  1. Wow. I grew up in Canada, so I had no idea about those laws. Very interesting read.

    • Thanks Jason, yeah this era was a bit before my time so I had to do a little research as well, but it’s pretty interesting stuff. I hope your week is going well! Keep up the good work at HMC.

      • Thanks. Things are going well, but we got this winter storm in northern Japan. Cold and snowy. Hopefully it passes soon.

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