FIVE states could lose millions of dollars of federal highway money because too many of their drivers are exceeding the 55 m.p.h. speed limit, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Federal transportation officials say that more than half the drivers surveyed last year in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, California, and Maryland exceeded the limit. As a result, these states could lose as much as 10 percent of federal highway money in 1991, according to federal law.
The issue has been controversial in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland because these states have retained the 55 m.p.h. speed limit on rural Interstates and kept up strong safety records. Transportation officials in all three states feel unfairly targeted because there is no requirement to monitor speeders on 65 m.p.h. highways. States with the higher speed limits are less likely to lose highway funds.
``It's just ludicrous,'' says William Lazarek, deputy transportation commissioner in Connecticut. ``The ones with the 65 [limit] don't have to monitor and report at all.''
Most states adopt 65 m.p.h. limit
There are about 40 states that have raised the speed limit to 65 m.p.h. In the 1987 law that allowed states to adopt the 65 m.p.h. limit, Congress did not include the highway speeding surveying requirement that went into effect for highways with 55 m.p.h. speed limits. Politics played a key role in that decision, say congressional aides. The House Public Works Committee is currently working on legislation to include monitoring and sanctioning for drivers on 65 m.p.h. highways.
The five sanctioned states, meanwhile, must present federal officials with their plans to get tougher with speedy drivers. If future statistics show compliance with the law, the states will not lose highway funding, says Harry Skinner, of the traffic engineering division of the Federal Highway Administration. In fact, he says, no states have lost federal highway money since the 55 m.p.h. law went into effect in 1973.
``The objective is to get speeds down,'' Mr. Skinner says.
But the fact that the law discriminates against states that have kept the low speed limit has drawn attention to efforts to change state speeding laws and ticketing systems.