This Day in History

On May 21, 1901, Connecticut created the first law to regulate motor vehicle speeds. They limited automobiles to the speed of 12 miles per hour in town and 15 miles per hour in the country.

Still, this was not the first time speed limits were created in America. Back in 1652, the colony known as New Amsterdam, which was later renamed to New York, created a law that said:

"In order to prevent Wagons, Carts, or Sleighs shall be run, rode or driven at a gallop with this city of New Amsterdam, that the drivers and conductors of Wagons, Carts and Sleighs with this city shall not sit or stand on them but now henceforth within this City (the Broad Highway alone excepted) shall walk by the Wagons, Carts or Sleighs and so take and lead the horses..."

And what was the fine for such a violation? "Two pounds Flemish," which equates to approximately $150 today.

New York Cab Driver Arrested for Speeding in 1899

One of the earliest recorded arrests for a speeding violation occurred in New York City in 1899. A cabdriver named Jacob German was taken into custody after erratically driving his taxi at the breakneck speed of 12 miles per hour.

The initial proposal for a statewide speed limit in Connecticut was introduced by Representative Robert Woodruff. It proposed to set the speed limit for automobiles at 8 miles per hour inside city limits and 12 miles per hour in the country. The final version of the measure, however, offered drivers higher limitations to their speed, but it did require them to slow down while driving by horse-drawn wagons and even come to a halt if it looks like they could scare the horses.

Modern Speeding Laws

Although the federal government instituted a fuel control measure to conserve gasoline, and set the national speed limit at 55 miles per hour in 1974, in 1987 Congress provided states with the ability to govern their own speed limits up to 65 miles per hour on rural interstates. In 1995, Congress passed the National Highway System Designation Act, which gave states the right to set speed limits at whatever level they wished. Most set their upper limit to 70 miles per hour on rural interstates.