Ive been driving a lot lately. In June, 1,400 miles around New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. In July, 1,200 miles from Pismo Beach, Cal. to Ashland, Oregon and back. And you know what? Too many people drive too damn fast.
Whether youre on an interstate like New Yorks I-90 or Californias I-5, on a state route like Connecticuts 34 or the Golden States 41 crossing the Coastal Range, if you obey the speed limit, youre in a minority.
During my 2,600 miles on the road, I experimented. Five miles over the posted limit, seven, ten. Even at 15 miles over, I had someone crawling up my tailpipe. On I-5 last Sunday, the limit was 70mph, I was going 75; and I was passed at well over 100 by someone in a hurry to get to Los Angeles.
Usually, the speed demons were in SUVs. For every one I passed, ten passed me.
Grim-faced fanatics with lead feet. But there were also Mercedes and Beemers and a couple pickups pulling boats! I even paced a double rig truck full of freshly-harvested tomatoes at 85! Uphill and down, on mountains and plains hurrying toward the horizon. Riding your bumper until you speed up or pull over.
Being tailgated at 80 is hard on my digestion. As much as I resented the intimidation and the speeders lack of concern for the pair of us, I always pulled into the slower lane. Theres no place I have to be that I need to risk my life in order to get there a few minutes sooner.
"What about the law?" I hear some of you saying. Youre right. The posted speed is the SAFE speed limit. Backed by the force of law. (Which means traffic cops and courts.)
But too many drivers think that the posted limit is for AVERAGE drivers. From what my acquaintances in law enforcement tell me, few of the speeders they ticket consider themselves average. They think theyre exceptional. Thus, the law does not apply to them.
Some have excuses. Theyre late, on an urgent errand, the cruise control creeps, the speedometer is unreliable. None of them wants to accept the responsibility for their actions. They even feel victimized that they should get a ticket. "Who, me?"
Yet every year, enough Americans die in auto accidents to fill up a small city.
Why do these speeders see no connection between their gas pedal and the climate of speed limit scofflawry which leads to the bloody carnage across our nation?
Once, the major highways through Galesburg were 150 and 34 one narrow lane of concrete in each direction all the way from Sandburg City to Peoria, the Quad Cities or Chicago. AAA maps timed mileage on such roads at an average of 45 mph.
But in the 1950s, the Eisenhower Administration began building superhighways. The rationale was the quick movement of military forces and materiel in an age of aerial atomic threat. But like Hitlers autobahn in World War 2, civilians could use these highways, too. Especially interstate trucks. So U.S. railroads suffered; passenger travel all but ended within a decade. Branch lines were closed. The auto industry built cars (and trucks) with the long haul in mind. Bigger, more powerful engines for sustained high speeds. Tires that could stand the wear and heat created by friction. Gasolines that burned cleaner and with more power. Better steering and brakes. Radiator coolant instead of water. Radios and air conditioning.
Soon, freeway standards were being applied to the building (and driving) of state roads even city streets. Suburbs exploded. Unfortunately, so did the attitude that your car is your mobile castle. How it looks and how fast you can move it became matters of ego.
We now have cars that can cruise with ease at 80mph but do we really need to? Whats more, are most of us capable of reacting well at that speed? Can we overcome our self-centeredness, our sense of ego, our animal competitiveness in the cause of a greater good?
These are not metaphorical questions.
Theyre reality on our highways. Theyre also a matter of life and death!