Is There Somewhere In the U.S. Without a Speed Limit?

The U.S. is a vast place known for its lack of regulation, few consistent laws state by state, and a love of overpowered and oversized vehicles. It’s hard to believe that we would have such tightly regulated speed limits with all that in mind. The cow-folk out west have done their best to stretch it here and there, but the fact remains, we can’t drive as fast as we want for America – for now.

Could America be getting a speed-limit-free Autobahn?

Last year California lawmakers proposed a bill that would eliminate speed limits on certain highways. Jalopnik highlights that the bill proposed would add two new lanes on the highways that would aim to lower pollution by alleviating traffic. The new lanes would be added to Route 5 and Route 99, and these lanes would have no speed limit. In fact, the bill would make it illegal to impose a speed limit. Can y’all say “autobahn”?

Planes, trains, and automobiles 

If this exciting supercar holy land seems like it’s popping up out of nowhere, it’s not. California has seen a dramatic rise in population over the years (in cities in particular). To deal with the increase in traffic congestion, there have been plans to make a high-speed rail for the state. While this is probably still the better idea long-term, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the plans have ballooned in price, throwing everything off. 

A "Route 66" sign is painted on the asphalt near Amboy in the Mojave Desert in California. Maybe soon to be unregulated by a speed limit
A “Route 66” sign | ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

So if the train won’t be happening any time soon, maybe a no-speed-limit lane can help. If more cars can shred traffic running a cool buck 20 (120 mph) that may ease the traffic around major city centers like L.A., San Diego, and San Francisco. Not much news has come out since last year on the subject. It feels unlikely, but then again, California has been known to blaze a trail on deregulation. 

Not so Long ago, the highways of the west still ran wild in their natural habitat

Montana was the last hold out for Americans who liked to drive fast. According to Car and Driver, until 1974, the Wild Wild West was still alive and well if you have had a fast car and find yourself in Montana. Richard Nixon signed the Emergency Energy Highway Conservation Act into law, ruining everyone’s fun and slamming a wack speed limit on the nation.

This law would make it so that every state had to enforce a maximum speed limit of 55 mph or risk losing all federal funding to maintain the roads. Get this, the fine you would get for speeding read, “an unnecessary waste of a natural resource,” and would cost the recipient five dollars. Leave it to Montana to see the federal government’s regulations and raise them a big “hell no.” 

The speed-limit fight goes on

Clouds form along the San Rafael Mountains where once there was no speed limit
Clouds form along the San Rafael Mountains | George Rose/Getty Images

Watch a Station Wagon Do 162 MPH on the Autobahn

By 1987, Congress finally allows states to raise the speed limit to 65 mph on rural interstates. Like any good Arkansawyer would do, Bill Clinton signs the National Highway System Designation Act, repealing Nixion’s wack speed-limit law. Without fear of losing road funding, Montana quickly returns to form and reinstates the original law that says, “drivers shall operate vehicles at a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and prudent.” That law, in all its vagueness, was never going to last – and last, it didn’t. 

Thanks a lot, Richard Stanko

The Montana speeding law, although fun, is so vague it is nearly impossible to know how to adhere to it or enforce it. An officer can basically decide that someone is driving faster than what is “reasonable and Prudent.” After Richard Stanko got a ticket in Montana that he fought in court, it was ultimately decided that the law was unconstitutionally vague and couldn’t be enforced. As a result of its cowboy-esque lack of convention, the law was struck down, and in its place, Montana’s state legislature set the speed limit at 75 mph. 

In one last push toward hope, Montana increased its highway speed limit to 80 mph in 2015. It ain’t much, but it’s something.

If Europe can get down with the Autobahn, we should definitely have a similar stretch of unregulated road somewhere in America. In a country as massive as this, running 100 mph could really help those 24-hr stretches across the middle parts.