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If, at the last minute, the Congress does not stop the abolition of the national maximum speed limit on highways that is in a highway construction bill, President Clinton will be faced with two choices:

Sign the bill and reject his own Department of Transportation’s warnings that it will condemn about 7,000 American children, women and men to death, along with many thousands of permanently disabling injuries and $19 billion in extra costs, every year;

Or veto the bill, saying he was not elected President to sign legislation to destroy American lives by ending a successful life­saving program, and if Congress deletes the lethal provisions and returns to him the construction part of the bill, he’ll sign it.

Presently, the top speed limit on rural interstates is 65 mph -­which given police tolerance means 70 mph — and on the rest of the roads the limit is 55 mph — which again means about 60 mph.

If S. 440 and BR 2274 are signed into law, your auto insurance and workers compensation rates will rise, the companies assure, and both pollution and fuel waste will expand. The reason is that the states will set the speed limits on highways heavily invested in by federal funds. Nine states already have laws on the books to raise speed limits to 70 mph, 75 mph or no limit (Montana). These states include Texas, California and Missouri.

Twenty eight states which had 70 mph or higher prior to the 1974 enactment of the federal maximum speed limit are expected to move fast to go to 80 mph or higher. These include states in the mid-west, south, north west and mountain states. The rest of the states will likely raise speed limits.

Remember, these 70 mph, 75 mph speed limits would apply to two-lane country roads and other non-interstate highways.

Remember also, that 18 wheelers and other large trucks -­many of them underbraked — will be looming in your rear view mirror at speeds close to 80 mph or 75 mph in many states.

These same violent bills also would exempt well over a million medium and heavy trucks (up to 13 tons) from all federal safety rules for inspection, maintenance and driver hours.

There is a madness, a recklessness seizing Congress in many areas of destroying health and safety conditions since the Republicans took over under Gingrich and Dole. But this one involves Congress aggressively destroying American lives and further burdening medicare, medicaid and other taxpayer programs that will be absorbing the costs.

A large coalition of insurance, safety, health and elderly groups oppose these bills and are urging a Clinton veto. But many lawmakers are caving to the pressures of the trucking industry,

the speed-conscious elements within the auto industry and the Mach-2 speed mentality that was expressed by Shawn Harris who sells cars at Steve Harris imports in Salt Lake City.

Mr. Harris told the Wall St. Journal this: “A Ferrari goes 196 miles an hour. That’s faster than most people are qualified to drive, but 150 mph is about right” as a top speed. You don’t have to have the slower reaction time of millions of good elderly drivers to shudder at that thunderball mindset unleashed on your highways. Look at the speedometers of the new cars and you’ll see that the auto companies have indulged speedsters with a ready capability.

Within the next three years, Mexican heavy trucks, not known for their safety maintenance, will be able to travel anywhere in the United States under the NAFTA trade agreement. Think of that spectre with higher speed limits.

It remained for Theresa Rankin — an innocent survivor over eighteen years with serious head injuries) of a speeding accident to remind the politicians at a recent press conference of some empathy: “I have just one question for President Clinton and for [her] Senator Warner and every member of Congress: Would you have been willing to walk in my shoes over the past 18 years?”

Why make the speeding epidemic so much worse, she asked President Clinton, who lost his father in a highway crash?

Call the White House comment number now and urge a Presidential veto. The number is 202-456-1414.