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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/In the Fast Lane

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about speed limits. On July 5, 1865 England passed the first speed limit law, a measly 2 mph in the city.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.


CURWOOD: Whether you’re crawling through a traffic jam or riding on cruise control, consider that the world’s first speed limit was enacted this week in 1865. Britain’s Red Flag Act capped all those horse-less carriages at two miles an hour in town, and four miles per hour in the country.

Connecticut set the first U.S. speed limit back in 1901 at 12 miles per hour for town, and 15 miles an hour for the country. Speed limits kept on climbing until 1974 when President Richard Nixon put on the brakes. A national maximum speed limit was set at 55 to counter the effects of the OPEC oil embargo.

President Clinton repealed that law in 1995, leaving it up to the states, again, to set limits. Now, some allow speeds of up to 75 miles per hour. Certain sections of the autobahn have no limits, only suggested speeds of 130 kilometers, or 80 miles an hour.

Lead-footed drivers may want to steer clear of Finland, though. Traffic laws there base the price of a speeding ticket on the size of the speeder’s salary. That makes Anssi Vanjoki the payer of, what may be, the world’s largest speeding fine. The Nokia executive had to cough up nearly $104,000 for doing 47 in a 31 mile per hour zone. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.




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