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World War II Victory Speed Limit on North Dakota’s Roads

4/10/2015:

“’V’ for Victory,” was the famous motto of Winston Churchill as he rallied international support for winning World War II. North Dakotans answered the call and willingly rationed vital goods needed to win the war.

Key elements among the rationed goods included tires and gasoline. The best way to save both was to reduce the speed limit on roads and highways.

On this date in 1942, Governor John Moses requested that all police officers in the state enforce the 50-miles-per-hour speed limit then on the books. Moses had been asked by President Franklin Roosevelt to reduce the limit to 40 miles-per-hour, but he said he had no authority to do that.

However, that fall, President Roosevelt instituted a nationwide Victory-Speed limit of 35-miles-per hour, starting October 1st. Governor Moses then asked all North Dakota motorists to observe the 35-miles-per-hour speed in order to conserve “rubber tires and gasoline,” and to save lives, but acknowledged that he had no power to change the limit from 50 to 35.

Nonetheless, the state highway department began installing new road signs in highly-visible locations with the words: “Victory 35 Limit,” starting in December. Oddly, officers could not arrest or prosecute anyone for exceeding 35 miles-per-hour, because the official limit remained at 50, but the rationing authorities were known to take away gas-rationing coupons from speed violators.

The situation changed in June, 1943, when Governor Moses decreed a new wartime speed limit of 35 through an executive order. This meant that speeders faced a fine as well as losing gasoline coupons.

Later that year, in Cass County, a speeder got arrested and fined, on December 8th, for exceeding the limit, and he appealed his case all the way to the state supreme court. The court eventually ruled that Governor Moses had exceeded his authority in changing the speed limit, and, thus, the court overturned the Victory Speed limit and the speeding ticket.

Oddly, the man whose stubborn insistence on driving faster than 35 was named Victor

And so the Dakota speed limit reverted to 50 in December of 1944. The governor, being slowed by the courts, said he would not try to impose the Victory Speed limit again.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “State To Enforce ‘50’ Speed Limit,” Bismarck Tribune, April 10, 1942, p. 6.

“35-Mile Speed Limit Now Is In Effect,” Bismarck Tribune, October 1, 1942, p. 1.

“Moses To Ask All To Observe 35-Mile Speed,” Bismarck Tribune, October 1, 1942, p. 1.

“New Highway Sign Used In State,” Bismarck Tribune, December 29, 1942, p. 2.

“Moses Sets State Speed Limit at 35 Miles Hour,” Bismarck Tribune, June 12, 1943, p. 1.

“ODT Won’t Relax 35-Mile Speed Rule,” Bismarck Tribune, December 29, 1944, p. 5.

“Victor Johnson,” Moorhead Daily News, August 22, 1944.

“Court Rules Moses Speed Order Invalid,” Bismarck Tribune, December 29, 1944, p. 1.

“Moses Won’t Issue New Proclamation On War Speed Limits,” Moorhead Daily News, December 30, 1944, p. 12.

“Moses Will Not Issue New Speed Order,” Bismarck Tribune, December 30, 1944, p. 7.

“Fewer Persons Killed In Traffic Accidents,” Bismarck Tribune, March 29, 1945, p. 9.