September 11, 2008

(I Can't Drive) 75

Rapid motion through space elates one. -- Joyce

THE RANT NOTES WITH disapproval the latest bright idea to come from the establishment, which is that cars ought have speed governors on them. This is because when people drive cars really fast, they sometimes get into accidents. As a result, a prominent doctor -- it would be, wouldn't it? -- has suggested in The New York Times that cars should be prevented from traveling at speeds greater than 75 miles per hour. Ever. Because.

Alarmingly, this idea -- which in a sane and just society would be dismissed out of hand -- has received some acclaim. Ezra Klein, for instance, suggests the idea might be workable if applied to reckless drivers. And Ryan Avent, in responding to a critic who suggests the doctor in question must not drive all that much, writes:

So our blogger recognizes that it is dangerous to drive at very high speeds. And that in fact, some proportion of highway fatalities–less than 30% but likely appreciable–can be attributed to driving at high speed. And yet it was deemed necessary to get in a dig at those crazy eastern elites, who don’t understand the charming, speedy ways of real America? Who will stand up for the right of rural and suburban teenagers to wrap their cars around trees? Who will defend the VERY IMPORTANT commuter riding the tailgates of people driving ten miles over the speed limit, because don’t you know that car can go faster.

Well, Mr Avent, allow me to explain how Flyover Country works.

You see, I'm originally from Michigan -- you may have seen pictures -- and in Michigan, one must often drive long distances to get where one needs to go. Sadly, in Michigan, the population density is insufficient to warrant an excellent public transport system such as exists in Washington, D.C., which according to your blog is where you currently reside. Indeed, I can assure you that in Michigan, there are instances when driving at Very High Speeds is not only perfectly appropriate but an accepted part of the social fabric. Driving at a mere 75 miles per hour on the freeway does not cut it in the Great Lakes State.*

I realize the idea of driving at a speed greater than 75 miles per hour may seem alarming and dangerous -- especially when one considers that in New York and Washington, it is difficult to get anywhere close to 75 miles per hour in heavy traffic. I know this because I used to live in Washington and have driven through New York too many times for my own liking. However, there are places in this country where driving at speeds of 80 miles per hour, 90 miles per hour, or even higher is perfectly reasonable. I know this because I have driven there.

Now, there are times when such speeds are clearly inappropriate -- for instance, during inclement weather. When one is driving through the Cajon Pass in heavy fog, and one must navigate the road through following the tail lights of the car in front of one's vehicle, one must drive at 30 or 40 miles per hour. When one is driving through white-out conditions in northern Indiana, or through a downpour in Cleveland, prudence may even require one pull off the road. But when weather conditions are fine, and it is daylight out, and there is little traffic, and there is great music on the radio, there is no reason not to drive as fast as one wants provided one is capable of handling it.

For instance, on US-23 between Toledo, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Mich., a straight stretch of freeway, I can assure Mr Avent that I have driven 85 miles per hour with no ill effects. In fact, this may have been too slow for conditions, as I have frequently been passed on the right while doing so. When traveling I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, I have driven 85 miles per hour and hummed along with the rest of traffic on that glorious desert road. When traveling on certain desert freeways in California, I have found that no speed is inherently unreasonable, although in my age I have held the needle about 80 miles per hour.

Of course, a key element of this is being able to handle driving at high speeds, something which not everyone is capable of doing -- or wants to do. These people should, then, drive at lower speeds, in the lanes set aside for driving at lower speeds. In fact, in my old age, I have found myself traveling much closer to the speed limit on the freeway, in an attempt to save money and take it easier while driving. Driving fast is more expensive, due to greater gasoline consumption, and it also requires more mental energy. One must keep acute concentration on the road and traffic, as opposed to simply keeping an eye on things. These days, I have found the joy in driving slower. (Memo to Mom and Dad: I haven't driven faster than 80 in a long time, so stop worrying).

Furthermore, I readily admit that traveling at extremely high speeds -- say, over 100 mph -- is inherently dangerous. Although my preferred cruising speed is about 80 miles per hour, and there are times when I would like to push it about 90, there are almost no circumstances when I would drive 90 miles per hour these days. Under absolutely no circumstances would I travel faster than 95 miles per hour. When one gets close to (or into) triple digits, you deal not only with greatly reduced reaction times to road obstacles and other concerns, but also physical limitations -- namely, the limitations of most passenger car tires, which generally can't take much more than 100 miles per hour. It is a poor decision to risk a blowout when driving like Mad Max.

However, there's no reason why one must drive achingly slow either -- unless, of course, one wants to. As it happens, there are some insurers who are testing out this concept, and giving their slower-driving members discounts for doing so. That's a much better solution than forcing the vast majority of the populace to slow down via speed governors.

* For those readers who do not believe me when I speak of driving in Michigan, I would invite them to travel along I-94 between Kalamazoo and Detroit, especially during rush hour. Try traveling 75 mph. Really. Go ahead. When you get sick of the semi trucks and sport-utility vehicles determined to test how well your rear bumper reacts to high-speed collisions, pull off at the nearest exit, find a quality family restaurant, and relax with a refreshing Vernors ginger soda. It's deliciously different! Also, the bite of the stuff might put you in a scratchy mood, mentally preparing you for getting back on the freeway.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at September 11, 2008 07:52 PM | TrackBack
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