Montana: The Great Experiment

by Kevin Atkinson

On Dec. 8, 1995, Montana replaced its daytime speed limit with a "reasonable and prudent" limit. The question now being asked is how fast will Montanans drive and what will happen to Montana's fatality rate. The Montana Highway Patrol seems to think that people will drive 100 mph and Montana's fatality rate will sky rocket. Most of them want to see a speed limit somewhere around 75. When the legislature convenes again in 1997, the Montana Highway Patrol and others who believe a sensible limit saves lives, will push for that very thing. I, however, believe that people will continue to drive between 70 and 80 mph and that Montana's fatality rate will fall if anything.

It has been proven time and time again that motorists will drive at a speed that they feel comfortable at--with or without a speed limit. The idea that motorists, in the absence of speed limits, will drive in a manner that ignores their own welfare, and that of fellow highway users and without speed limits they would drive at reckless irresponsible speeds, is pure nonsense. The fact is that speed limits are for the most part irrelevant. An intense federal study proves just that. The study found that neither traffic speed or accident rates were significantly affected when the speed limits were raised or lowered. Without a speed limit most motorists will probably drive between 70 and 80 mph with a few of the adventurous ones driving between 85 and 100. Or in other words about the same speed they drove before the silly national 55 mph speed limit was established. Back then the estimated prevailing speed of traffic was 76 in Montana.

Having no speed limits will allow people to *legally* drive at a speed that they feel comfortable at. It will free motorists from the burden of looking out for cops and it will allow them to actually pay attention to the road. It will avoid the scenario of people slamming on their brakes just because they see a cop. Not having to look out for cops alone might just lower the accident rate.

Not having a speed limit will probably lower the fatality and accident rate, because it will allow officers to go after the truly dangerous drivers in traffic as they no longer have the burden of catching speeders. It will allow police officers to start ticketing those that create traffic havoc, such as left lane hoggers and those that drive 40 mph on the freeways. It will allow police officers to target their enforcement to the "dangerous" speeders, those that weave and bob their way through 70 mph traffic because they want to do 80. And it will allow police officers to ticket those that probably create the most accidents: tailgaters. All of which should lead to a decrease in accidents.

Having no speed limits will allow people to start seeing the police officers of the Highway Patrol as friends because they no longer have to fear them. Instead of Montanans slamming on the brakes and cussing whenever they see one of these guys on the road they will instead just wave at them. Having no speed limit except where absolutely necessary will cause people to have more respect for the speed limits when they are in place.

Yes, I believe that Montana will be the great experiment. A great experiment that will confirm what many of us have known for ages, that speed limits are for the most part ignored. I even believe that the Montana Highway Patrol will drop their request for a speed limit by the time 1997 rolls around because they will find that most motorists will stay within a reasonable speed. One officer by the name of Lt. Hanet Baker already began to convince herself of that when she found, to her surprise, that most cars stuck to the high 60s and 70s when she was doing a one-hour patrol of I-90 and I-94 on the day the new limit took effect.

Montana would serve as a role model for other states. Studies on the effect of no speed limit in Montana will give other states incentive to remove their speed limits too. And if enough states have no speed limits and get positive results from it, the insurance companies may just shut up, AAA may once again be on the drivers' side, traffic engineers will become more open on their view points toward setting of speed limits, and organizations like Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety may even go out of existence or at very least change their views on speed limits. Montana will be the great experiment. A great experiment that will hopefully have positive results in the end. Results that will allow motorists to legally drive at a speed they feel comfortable at!

Copyright 1995 by Kevin Atkinson,

So, What did you think of it? This is the first real editorial I did and would like to know what you think of it. So, why not email me at and let me know what you think.

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