January 30, 2007

But Is This Man REALLY From Michigan?

RECENTLY, I WAS PERUSING the on-line edition of the Detroit Free Press, when I stumbled across a rather different story the paper's driving columnist had authored.

Apparently, changes in Michigan law have boosted the speed limit on several freeways from 65 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour, but the signs on those roads haven't yet been changed to reflect that. As such, it understandably prompted Matt Helms to write about the matter, pointing out to motorists that one could in fact drive 70. But what I didn't understand was Mr Helms' lead, which ran as follows:

You're tooling down the freeway at 70 m.p.h., keeping an eye out for cops because signs say the speed limit is 65. Relax! You're driving perfectly legally. It's one of the state's best-kept road secrets that the signs are wrong, and no cop is going to stop you.

As a Michigan native who has lived in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, and who has traveled extensively throughout the Great Lakes State, this is a lead which forces me to ask: is Mr Helms really from Michigan, or is he doing the driving column from some place a bit more placid, like Sheboygan, Wisc.?

I'm sorry, but I think my fellow Michiganders would agree that were one to actually "tool down the freeway" at a mere "70 miles per hour," one would find oneself crushed between a Mack truck and a Ford Excursion sooner than one could start ranting about the wretched roads. After all, this is Michigan -- home to the American auto industry, and home to the Motor City, the City That Moves the World. The way people Back Home drive, one would think the state's speed limits are just friendly suggestions, suggestions which carry penalties similar to those associated with tearing off the tags on a mattress.

Of course, anyone who has actually received a ticket from the authorities in Michigan knows the authorities don't screw around. Trust me on this -- it sucks. That said, having driven on all the major freeways in Michigan, I also know people just don't drive 70 miles per hour. Nor have they ever worried about getting a ticket while driving 70.

Gad -- I mean, here's just one example. US-23 is a four-lane highway which, in part, runs from between northwest Ohio to Ann Arbor. This stretch of road is practically a straight line. I can assure readers that I have driven on this road at 85 miles per hour, and in doing so, have been frequently passed on the right.

But here's the thing. It's not just that road. When I was driving back to my home town of Kalamazoo last year, I found myself being tailgated on I-94 when I was driving in the upper 70s and lower 80s, even though I was traveling as fast as I could in heavy traffic. Around the Detroit area, the traffic ran at an equally frantic pace, and based on my travels elsewhere in the state, I can't imagine Michiganders driving 70 unless their vehicles were equipped with speed governors. Throughout most of Michigan, there's just too much open space and too little traffic, and everywhere else folks drive as if they're drag racing. I mean, it's so bad it's on par with the 405, and as a former Angeleno that says something.

On a related matter, though, I would note that Mr Helms also advises motorists to stick with driving 55 miles per hour in certain 55 mile per hour zones around Detroit, such as on I-94, I-96, and M-10 (the Lodge). Again, Mr Helms seems to pose this as a matter of law. In reality, anyone who drove faster than 55 mph on these horribly-maintained roads would experience mechanical troubles with their cars, including flat tires, wrenched alignments, and rear axle assemblies being ripped from cars so fast it would impress an eating champion at Ribfest.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at January 30, 2007 09:28 PM | TrackBack
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