By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
GOP Senator John Warner probably doesn’t drive himself anywhere; he is flown, or chauffeured — at state expense and top speed. Which may explain why he is peddling reduced speed limits to “save fuel” for the rest of us.
Just prior to the 4th of July weekend, Virginia’s senior senator (and very senior citizen) said, “Given the significant increase in the number of vehicles on America’s highway system from 1974 to 2008, one could assume that the amount of fuel that could be conserved is far greater” than under the old 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit — which Congress repealed back in 1995.
Warner may be right about fuel saved — more on that in a moment — but he went on to repeat the totally discredited agit-prop mantra that lower speed limits “save lives.”
During the NMSL era, advocates claimed that 55 was responsible for reducing annual highway fatalities by 4,000 deaths per year. This claim was used to morph what had been a fuel-conservation measure enacted in 1974, during a previous era of high gas prices, into a “safety” issue — with consequences that went far beyond conservation.
If driving faster than 55 was not merely less energy efficient — but unsafe — then tickets could be issued, DMV “points” assigned and insurance premiums jacked up. Which of course is exactly what did happen — with the result being a nationwide fleecing program gussied up as a public safety measure.
Overnight — literally — speeds that had been considered both legal and safe became illegal and unsafe. People who had never received a ticket in their lives were now receiving them regularly. People who had never had an accident in their lives were being hit up with insurance premium “surcharges” — on the basis of their now “unsafe” driving habits.
But saving fuel and driving safely are not necessarily the same things.
Sometimes, in fact, they are mutually exclusive.
Doing 70 on a modern Interstate will certainly burn more fuel than doing 55. But doing 55 on an Interstate designed for speeds of 70-75 mph can actually be unsafe.
The old man (Sen. Warner?) doddering along at well below the natural flow of traffic creates a rolling roadblock; cars bunch up and jockey for position. They are increasingly tempted to resort to maneuvers that would otherwise not be necessary to get around the slowpoke.
The authorities can post all the artificially low, dumbed-down speed limits they like; people will ignore them — and drive at more realistic speeds. That is precisely what happened during the Drive 55 era. We all knew that it didn’t suddenly become unsafe to drive 70 mph on Thursday because on Wednesday evening the law changed — and the posted limit had been dropped to 55.
It was bunk – and we knew it was bunk. So we ignored it, en masse. The same will happen again if Sen. Warner’s brainstorm leads to a new era of Drive 55.
Attempting to force drivers to operate their vehicles at speeds 10-20 mph below speeds that are reasonable and prudent in order to save fuel is as ridiculous as insisting — at ticket point — that pedestrians walk 25 percent slower to conserve energy.
It’s also a great way to delegitimize legitimate traffic safety enforcement. The NMSL era completely corrupted the system by putting cops in the position of having to enforce laws everyone knew were BS.
The constant harassment created enmity where none, if any, had existed before.
When a person gets pulled for doing something he knows in his gut is probably not right — besides being illegal — he accepts his punishment with equanimity. But when you get pulled and ticketed for driving at perfectly reasonable and prudent speeds, you know you’ve been had.
And you resent it.
Do we want to return to this foolishness? If we do, it will be even worse this time because technology has improved to the point that catching “speeders” is much easier and more efficient than it ever was before. We have photo radar and the ability to track a vehicle via GPS — a computer determining its speed and (potentially) issuing a ticket automatically.
If Sen. Warner wants to talk about conserving fuel, fine. That’s a worthy topic — but a separate topic.
It has nothing to do with safety.
Please, No Mas. Not all of us have state-owned helicopters and private jets to whisk us to where we need to be — free of worry about being issued a piece of “payin’ paper” in the name of “conserving energy.”