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Highway to hell: Rerunning a daring 1978 WFAA8 story that got a lot of motors running

Byron Harris back in the day off the I-30 freeway. Photo: Ed Bark

Longtime WFAA8 investigator Byron Harris remembers taking tons of heat over this gambit. And not just from irate motorists.

In May 1978, Harris and two other WFAA8 staffers decided to test the feasibility of the federally mandated 55 mph highway speed limit by driving three cars abreast on I-30 from Dallas to Fort Worth. They stayed at 55 mph throughout, prompting "surprisingly violent" reactions from some drivers, Harris says in the piece (which is replayed below after being recently posted on youtube). "They consider it their right to break the law."

One motorist came close to wiping out while swerving to the shoulder of the road in an effort to get ahead of the WFAA8 pack. Drivers on CB radios can be heard voicing their extreme displeasure.

The station captured the action with two cameras while Chopper 8 stayed in communication from overhead to warn of any emergency vehicles trying to pass through.

Asked to reminisce, Harris said via email that "the reaction was vitriolic. Lots of calls to the station. People realized that Channel 8 was involved because one of the three cars we used to drive 55 belonged to (former anchor) Michael Brown, who had a "News 8" vanity license plate."

News director Marty Haag wasn't amused, Harris recalled.

"Marty knew about it and approved it, because we used the helicopter," he said. "But both he and I were shocked by how angry people got. When I got back after the shoot, he'd been fielding the calls as well as reaction from the front office. It may have been the closest I've ever gotten to getting fired. On the one hand, he (Haag) knew he'd approved it so he could only go so far. On the other hand, he was really mad at me for doing it."

Initially signed into law in 1973 by President Nixon, the 55 mph speed limit was repealed during the Clinton administration. Harris and Haag remained close friends until his death in 2004. Here's the vintage video: