Why the Washington State speed limit (probably) isn’t going to change

A quick breakdown of our Washington state speed limits; remember, these are just guidelines—always pay attention to road signs.

Unless there are signs stating otherwise, the default maximum speed limits are as follows.

  • 60 mph on state highways;
  • 50 mph on county roads;
  • 25 mph on city and town streets.

“State highways” means any roadway maintained by the Washington State Department of Transportation, as opposed to federal or county-level maintenance. These highways are prefaced with SR, for State Route: SR 9, SR 20, SR 542.

“County roads” are roadways outside of cities and towns. For example, the King County Roads Department maintains 1,500 miles of roads in unincorporated King County.


There are many exceptions to the default speed limits; for example, speed limits were recently reduced on some state highways within Seattle city limits. Some of the major exceptions:

  • 70 mph on many rural freeways and interstates.
  • 60 mph for semi-trucks, on any highway.
  • 20 mph on many residential streets.

Washington State speed limit debate

Under our state law, freeways could theoretically have speed limits set to a maximum of 75 mph, following a safety and traffic study.

Several years ago, there was a big push to raise the speed limit in Washington—and it almost happened.

The Washington State legislature passed a bill in 2015 that would increase the speed limit to 75 mph on some Washington state highways. Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the bill, pointing out that a safety study should occur before the speed limit change instead of concurrently, but he let the state proceed with a safety impact study.

When the safety study was complete in 2016,  the Washington State Department of Transportation, Washington State Patrol and Washington Traffic Safety Commission announced they will not increase speed limit on I-90 in eastern Washington, due primarily to safety concerns.

“Speed is one of the major causing factors of collisions we see in this state”

 Washington State Patrol Capt. Rob Huss

Other states speed limits

Washington is not the only state that considered upping the highway speed limit in recent years. At least 10 states, including Oregon, have similar legislation come up.

Maximum speed limits by state, as of 2019: 41 states, including Washington, have maximum speed limits of 70 mph or higher.

Maximum speed limits are set by the state, and have been steadily increasing since the national speed limit of 55 mph was repealed in 1995. While crash fatalities have gone down overall, the percentage of crashes resulting in death has stayed the same over time.

An IIHS study of speed limit data over a 25-year study period found that there were 36,760 more deaths—13,638 on interstate highways and freeways and 23,122 on other roads— than would have been expected if the maximum speed limits hadn’t changed.


All of the progress we’ve made in reducing road fatalities—seat belt usage, reducing drunk driving, vehicle safety improvements—has been partially offset by the increase in speed-related accidents crashes.

Crashes at these high speeds overwhelm the safety features that are built into modern vehicles.

They’re not designed to handle crashes at 75 or 80 miles an hour.”

Russ Rader, representative for IIHS

This blog was originally posted on April 27, 2015, and has been since been updated several times. 
photo courtesy of countylemonade via Flikr  .

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5 Responses

  1. They need to raise the truck speed limit in Washington State, I drive a semi from Spokane to Seattle and back everyday and it’s ridiculous that it’s at 60 miles per hour. Causes me an additional two and a half hours I’m driving a week. That’s not safe but causes for fatigue. A constantly runs me up to my 11 hour driving rule and puts me more aggressive in the city areas cuz I know I won’t have the additional time. They also need to open up the far left lane for all vehicles at certain times of the day in Spokane. Bogs down the traffic when it’s night time and semis are creating congestion because we can’t be in the left lane. It snow all about safety but Revenue

  2. My thoughts on the Final thought: A maximum speed is a maximum speed. You don’t have to drive 75 if you don’t want to. A maximum speed should be reasonable for as how the highway is constructed. A unreasonable slow speed limit will only de disobeyed. I have never been in Washington state, bu I have driven in South Dakota. The highway is open, flat and straight and 80 is perfectly reasonable over there. 80 is not reasonable in Hawaii because those roads aren’t designed for those speeds. Lastly, states should have a lower speed limit for 16 year olds. Let them first get acquainted with 70 mph until they are 18.

  3. I agree trucks should be raised we are in the way ..can’t move over if there’s a broken down vehicle if we do the left lane has to slam on the brakes because of us .. I get bored and sleepy driving that slow for long periods of time.. this will be my last trip to Washington just like California we are pd by the mile not hrs .. and it takes too long to get anywhere driving so slowww.. I sure wouldn’t drive local in this I feel for those drivers .. plus do some research OOIDA did a study about the dangers of trucks going so slow means every vehicle has to pass the trucks which means it increases the dangers to other traffic…. it’s not safer it’s just to write tickets…

  4. 5 mph in Recreational Vehicle Parks, 7-25 mph in Private Driveways, 30 mph in the city, 35-45 mph in the urban areas, 50 in a county road, 55 in two-lane rural highways. 60+ in rural state routes & interstates.

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