The state faces losing millions in federal highway funds thanks to speeding Utah motorists.

Because more than half of Utah's drivers drove faster than 55 mph on urban stretches of freeway in the past 12 months, the federal government can withhold up to 10 percent of $31 million the Utah Department of Transportation gets annually for certain types of roads.Federal rules won't allow more than 50 percent of a state's drivers to violate the 55 mph speed limit on interstate freeways if a state is to qualify for certain road funds. As of Oct. 1, 1990, 50.3 percent of Utahns violated the speed limit during the previous 12 months, UDOT safety engineer Dave Miles told the Utah Transportation Commission Friday.

Although the numbers gathered at speed stations along the freeway cast a guilty verdict, the final decision will come after a hearing before federal authorities.

And UDOT has a chance to avoid the funding sanction.

Officials told the commission that the Federal Highway Administration has requested Congress remove the funding sanction. But no one knows whether that recommendation will pass.

The second hope is that federal officials won't be too tough on Utah, considering several other states are not in compliance and federal officials and Utah exceeded the maximum by only .3 percent. The final figure was actually better than UDOT expected. In June, non-compliance for the third quarter stood at 67 percent with the summer driving season still ahead.

Miles noted that the state dodged sanctions three years ago when federal authorities allowed UDOT to adjust the figures. The state was able to subtract figures from speed stations in rural areas where the limit is 65 mph.

"We came into compliance last time. But we went through all kinds of hell to do it," said UDOT executive director Eugene Findlay. "We can't take this lightly."

Indeed, the latest figures don't need adjusting. The state's next best hope is that drivers become law abiding in the coming fiscal year. Miles said if the state comes into compliance during the time hearings are held, federal highway officials will dismiss the case.

UDOT doesn't have much control over the situation, however, other than pleading with the public to obey the speed limit. UDOT planning director Clint Topham said driving within the speed limit will be part of the department's upcoming publicity campaign.

And the Utah Highway Patrol can't do much more than it already does. "It's already a high priority because it (speeding) is the No. 1 cause of traffic deaths," said Gary Whitney, spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety.

"We are stuck because people say they want the limit enforced but then they get mad at us when we use radar or park behind billboards and catch people," Whitney said.