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Speedometer rules slated for scrapping

By MICHAEL J. CONLON

WASHINGTON -- The government said Thursday it wants to scrap regulations that require speedometers to show speeds no higher than 85 mph, to highlight '55' on the dial and to show speeds both in kilometers and miles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also proposed shelving a requirement that vehicle odometers -- which record miles traveled -- be equipped with devices to show when they have been rolled back or otherwise tampered with. That provision was not scheduled to take effect until next year.

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The agency said it wants to lift the regulations because they are 'unlikely to yield significant safety benefits.'

Public comment on scrapping the rules will be accepted until Dec. 7.

The speedometer rules took effect Sept. 1, 1979. At the time, the agency said limiting the maximum speed indication to 85 mph would discourage drivers from trying to find out how fast their car could go.

Prior to the rules, it was not unusual to find speedometers that ran to 140 or higher.

Highlighting the '55' on the dial -- either in size or color -- was supposed to get Americans to obey the nationwide 55 mph speed limit.

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In a notice published in Thursday's Federal Register, the agency said automakers were showing lower top speeds on the dial before the rule went into effect and, with less emphasis on high-performance cars, they are likelyto continue the trend.

As to highlighting '55' the agency said, 'Many drivers frequently drive 5 to 10 mph above any posted highway speed limit ... A highlighted '55' on a speedometer scale adds little to the information provided to the driver by a roadside speed limit sign.'

The requirement that kilometers per hour be listed is no longer necessary, the notice added, because the Federal Highway Administration has withdrawn its proposal to have the metric figure on speed limit signs natiowide.

The odometer rules would have required the mileage counting devices to show when they pave passed either the 89,999 or 99,999 mark; to display a flag or other indication that they have been rolled back; and require replacement odometers to be marked differently to alert used car buyers to the switch.

The agency acknowledged that rescinding the anti-tampering provisions will likely result in more tampering and an unknown amount of economic harm to consumers who buy cars with altered odometers.

'But even if the economic benefit to be gained by consumers from the odometer provisions were considerable, the fact could not justify retaining the regulation in the absence of a significant safety benefit,' it said.

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