Faster speeds demand greater attention

For the first time in nearly 40 years, people legally can drive 70 mph on rural stretched of interstate highways in Ohio again.

Back in 1974, the 55 mph national speed limit went into effect as a way to save fuel in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo. The limit was raised to 65 about 25 years ago; the limit was increased to 70 mph on the Ohio Turnpike in April 2011.

Since 70 mph was the typical limit, automobiles have become much safer. The average car today has better brakes, better tires, better headlights and better handling than those of 1974. Plus, vehicles have airbags and have been engineered to help occupants better survive crashes.

And from the beginning, interestate highways were designed to handle traffic going 70 mph.

But a couple things have changed since the mid-1970s that make interstates a more hazardous environment. In 1975, there were less than 138 million registered passenger vehicles in the United States. By 2010, the number of vehicles on U.S. roads topped 250 million.

Also, most automobiles driven back in the ’70s only had a push-button AM radio – if they had a radio. Now, cars, trucks, vans and SUVs often have cup holders, climate controls, cruise control and electronic consoles that control the FM radio, satellite radio, CD, portable music players, cell phones and navigational devices.

In short, the highways were built for 70 mph speeds, and today’s automobiles can handle that. too.

But are we ready to set the GPS system before putting the car in drive, and staying off the phone after the car is in gear? Are we ready to not only maintain a safe distance between our vehicle and the one ahead but also pay attention to what is happening ahead of that vehicle?

Faster speeds demand greater attention. That has not changed since the last time the speed limit was 70.