THE next time you feel confined or restrained by a 45 mph speed limit, you should be aware that more than 60 years ago the maximum speed limit anywhere in Utah was only 35 mph.
On Oct. 28, 1942, a "Patriotic Speed Limit" of 35 mph was announced in an attempt to conserve gasoline and save on tires during World War II, according to the official history of the Utah Highway Patrol.
Enforcement began on Nov. 10, 1942. Many cars were operating with unsafe tires because people were unable to buy new ones.
The speed regulation resulted from a report following an engineering study of vehicle tires by the National Safety Council with the cooperation of the UHP and at the request of the Utah Highway Traffic Advisory Committee to the War Department.
The study showed 46 percent of cars driven by war workers had at least one tire with the tread worn smooth; 23 percent with at least two tires worn smooth; and 11 percent with at least three.
The study also indicated at least 40 percent of all the cars on Utah streets and highways had at least one smooth tire.
Because of the low speed limit, patrolman Russ Cederlund was featured on the cover of the November 1942 issue of the national magazine Public Safety. Cederlund and Matt Haslam of the state road shop were shown in a photograph replacing a 50 mph sign with a 35 mph sign.
Because all of Utah's 40 mph, 50 mph and 60 mph signs were reflectorized, all of them had to be replaced. The old signs were stored in anticipation that the speed limit would be raised following the war — and it was.
The low speed limit also did more than just save in gasoline and tires -- it also helped ease traffic problems. In Layton, for example, that city experienced significant population growth and thus more vehicles on the road -- thanks to so many military personnel in the area and their families. Layton City's history notes that the 35 mph limit made the roads safer there, though slower.
Also, despite a 5 percent increase in motor vehicles from 1941 to 1943, Utah had a significant decrease in accidents, injuries and fatalities — a testament to lower speeds increasing safety.
Auto accidents in Utah decreased 35 percent from 1941 to 1943, while fatalities dropped by almost 50 percent.
However, the 35 mph speed limit was a hindrance to long trips through the state. Whereas a drive from Salt Lake City to St. George took about 5¼ hours (non-stop) at 60 mph, the 35 mph speed required nearly nine hours.
It should also be noted that the U.S. had a national maximum speed limit of 55 mph from 1973 to 1987 to conserve gasoline. That was a decrease from a maximum of 70 mph.
Today, the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom and the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are the only places in the world without posted speed limits. Montana also experimented with some "no speed limit" freeways in the 1990s, but led to more severe freeway accidents than before. Just more than half of Germany's autobahn lacks posted speed limits.
The highest posted speed limits in the world are 80 mph or 130 kph, and Utah has some 80 mph speed zones currently on I-15 in Southern Utah.
(-Updated and originally published in the Deseret News by Lynn Arave on Feb. 17, 2009.)
-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org