When 55 miles per hour in the United States – Il Post

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It is difficult to imagine what the long-term consequences of the current one will be international energy crisis, which began due to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and influenced by the war in Ukraine. Some similar crises of the past had great lasting influences, in relations between countries but also in some aspects of daily life. One of the most notable is certainly the old national speed limit in the United States, familiar to anyone who traveled the country before 1995: for more than twenty years any American road could not exceed 55 miles per hour, a speed just under 90 kilometers per hour.

To impose this limit was the Republican President Richard Nixon in 1973, and he did so because of the world oil crisis that began with the Yom Kippur War, which involved Israel, Egypt and Syria. As with the current crisis, however, it was a series of factors that developed in the previous decade that led to the 1973 situation.

In the 1960s, the oil market was controlled by the so-called “seven sisters”: the western companies Mobil, Chevron, Gulf, Texaco, Shell, Exxon and British Petroleum, which monopolized the cycle of extraction and production thanks to the advantages obtained in the colonial period . They tried to oppose some developing countries that in 1960 had gathered in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – initially Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela – who wanted regulate both the quantity of oil extracted each year in the world and the prices.

Initially, the OPEC countries limited themselves to claiming an increase in the royalties that foreign companies paid to be able to extract the oil, but after obtaining it they asked for a stake in the extraction companies. They were in a position to negotiate because in those years the demand for oil – used to fuel manufacturing and transportation activities around the world – had increased dramatically.

The decisive event that altered the balance that had been maintained until then took place on 6 October 1973, the day of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel with the aim of driving the Israeli army out of the territories. conquered during the Six Day War in 1967. The OPEC countries, in support of Syria and Egypt, decided to significantly increase the price of oil globally and to reduce exports by a quarter, also imposing an embargo on the most important countries. pro-Israel.

The war lasted only 19 days and had no decisive military results, but it suddenly quadrupled the price of oil, creating major problems for the countries that were most dependent on it, including the United States and Western European countries. In Italy then began the called period austerity, remembered above all for the ban on the use of motor vehicles on Sundays. At the same time, speed limits of 50 kilometers per hour in built-up areas, 100 on extra-urban roads and 120 on motorways were introduced.

Similar measures were taken in the United States, one of the countries embargoed by OPEC, and where the speed limit chosen was stricter. On November 26, 1973, President Nixon – who had been in office since 1969, less than a year earlier had ended the Vietnam War and was, among other things, dealing with Watergate scandal – proposed a national maximum speed limit of 50 miles per hour (about 80 kilometers per hour) for cars and motorcycles and 55 (90) for trucks and buses. These limits were designed with the idea that at such speeds the vehicle engines would reach maximum efficiency, which would have allowed to save gasoline: it was estimated that together with other measures, such as the ban on the sale of fuel on Sundays, they would were able to decrease the annual consumption of petrol by 2.2 per cent.

In the end, however, the 55 mph limit was set as the only limit: it was introduced throughout the United States, replacing the previous higher state limits, in March 1974.

The embargo of the OPEC countries ended in the spring of 1974 but the American national speed limit remained in effect because it was thought to have led to a reduction in traffic accidents, increasing safety. In fact, most American states recorded fewer deaths from road accidents in 1974 than in 1973. The government even required auto companies to display the number 55 more prominently on their speedometers.

However, the speed limit was not appreciated by many American citizens and by some states in particular. Although there is no doubt that the same accident has worse consequences if the speeds of the vehicles involved are higher, over the years it was questioned whether the 55 mph limit actually contributed to greater safety: in the same period, safety devices were increasing. car safety and it was difficult to distinguish the effects of the two on reducing the number of deaths due to accidents. Even after the limit was removed, road deaths continued to decline, largely thanks to laws that made seatbelt mandatory between the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

The billboard for “The Craziest Race in America” ​​(1981), a comedy about an illegal car race, where a sign indicating the speed limit of 55 miles per hour is destroyed

A first partial removal of the national limit occurred in 1987, when Congress voted in favor of raising the limit to 65 mph on interstate highways. The power to set speed limits on different types of roads was instead returned to individual states only at the end of 1995.

In 1998 the Transportation Research Board, a division of an American national research organization, he estimated that the 55-mph limit had reduced fuel consumption by between 0.2 and 1 percent.

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When 55 miles per hour in the United States – Il Post


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