Most people see the speed limits on the roadways they use and seldom think about the long debates that preceded the number on the sign. Nonetheless, probably everyone has an opinion on the subject, and believes the current limits are either too low, too high or just right.

The setting of speed limits involves many factors, including road safety, environmental pollution, wildlife safety and productivity.

The national history

An article in USA Today takes a broad look at the history of speed limits in the U.S. The article proposes that Connecticut, in 1901, set the first speed limits in the nation, at the beginning of the motor age. The first time the country set a national limit for the highway system occurred in 1974, when Richard Nixon served as President. The 55 mph limit pleased some and angered others. Nevada and Montana protested the national speed limit by issuing speeding tickets (at between $5 and $15) that essentially did not punish speeders. in 1995, Congress removed the national speed limit.

The state perspective

An article in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise provides a few insights into setting of speed limits in the state of New York. The New York Vehicle and Traffic Law gives authority to set limits to cities and villages, with at least one exception: limits cannot go below 30 mph (except in New York City). The New York Department of Transportation does set the speed limits for state highways no matter the location in the state. The purpose of a speed limit is to provide a safe and orderly flow of traffic. An engineering study is often an important prerequisite when determining a suitable limit fora stretch of road.