The Speedometer as Cod Piece

Almost every new car I test drive — even the humblest hybrid — has a speedometer that reads to at least 120 mph.

140 is common; 160 not unusual. Some cars have speedometers that read to 180 or even 200 MPH.

And some of those are capable of pegging them.

Few ever do.

It would be interesting to know how many cars are ever driven faster than 100 MPH. And also how many ever see 130 — even briefly. My bet is maybe one out of ten and then only for a brief moment of furtive lawlessness.

First, of course, it is extraordinarily dangerous to drive that fast.

Not the speed, per se. In a modern car, 100 MPH is safer than 70 was in a 1960s-era car. Whether the measure is braking distances, lateral grip, susceptibility to loss of control or any other such. Many current year cars will brake — and come to a complete, perfectly controlled stop — entirely on their own, without the person behind the wheel needing to so much as scream . . . if the mighty bright sensors and computer Oz which control the thing detect an emergency.

Technology has advanced. Kind of like the way we don’t have to carry around brick phones anymore.

But speed laws have remained static. It’s analogous to carrying around a brick phone just because.

And being punished if you’re caught with a modern cellphone.

Violating archaic speed laws is what’s dangerous.

To drive even 100 MPH in most states is to risk a felony stop at gunpoint and the sure certainty of a “reckless driving” ticket that will take an expensive lawyer to plead down to something that merely involves handing over large sums of money, as opposed to your driving “privileges” (as the government styles what used to be our right to travel) and, very possibility, your liberty. In most states, a “reckless driving” conviction carries with it the possibility of time in Hotel Graybar. Though that is usually deferred or otherwise held in abeyance, it remains a serious threat nonetheless.

Thirty days in the Hotel is pretty much a life sentence for most people with jobs. Tell your boss you’ll be in jail for the next month and it’s likely you will not have a job upon your release.

Regardless, the best case is you will be made to pay a very large sum of money — both to the government and its sister operation, the insurance mafia. A “reckless driving” conviction on your driver’s record — which the mafia has ready access to, notwithstanding it being your (phlegmy cough) private information. The government and the insurance mafia are like a WWF tag team — with you as the object of their suplexes and camel clutches.

This will go on for a minimum of three years — the amount of time a conviction remains held against you, for purposes of financially raping you.

Even an ordinary “speeding” ticket — 78 in a 70, for instance — will cost you at least $100-something bucks up front plus whatever the mafia decides to surcharge you. Get two or three such and it gets into money.

This accounts for the slowness of very fast modern cars. It’s not their fault. They are like a champion race horse ridden by a beaten jockey. If he doesn’t kick the horse in the ribs, the horse will probably just stand there.

You know, the way most modern cars do when the light goes green.

The way they “accelerate” — once their driver finally notices the light has gone green — at the pace of an advancing glacier. The way they glut up into bunches — I call them Clover Clusters — with no car going faster than any of the others and all of them going slow.

It’s not even so much the None Shall Pass phenomenon of the deliberately obstructive Clover. It’s that none of them even consider the idea of passing.

Like our jockey, they are beaten.

Given the consequences, this is perfectly understandable.

Enforcement of speed statutes has become outright vicious. The government isn’t much interested in the Wall Street flim-flam artists who crater whole economies for their personal enrichment and is almost casual in its treatment of rapists, thieves and murderers — probably because they are not paying customers (and it’s worth noting that “customer” is their term for us).

But god help the “speeder.”

So, defeat — and passivity — have settled in. And this has occurred as cars have become ever-more-powerful, ever-more-capable of routine operation at speeds that would have been unsafe — perhaps even “reckless” — forty or fifty years ago.

What’s the point?

You might remember when cars had speedometers that read no higher than 85 MPH. In the late ’70s, Congress thought people might be less tempted to drive faster if the speedometer didn’t tempt them to do so. I had all kinds of fun twisting the speedo in my 1980 Camaro all the way back around to 5 or 10 mph — which was about 115 or so.

But back then, they didn’t draw down on you for such things. The Cult of Officer Safety was as yet a backwater eddy. The insurance mafia wasn’t as strong; you could still get away with not having insurance — there was no SCMODS (State, County, Municipal Offender Data System) in most cop cars and no such things as plate readers. The government didn’t give the mafia ready access, anytime it liked, to your DMV records.

Back then, it was much harder, in terms of the machinery available, to hit 160.

But a lot easier to “get away” with it, if you managed to get hold of the machinery that could.

Today, probably a third of the cars on the road can get there — or get close to there.

But it’s a lot more dangerous to go there.

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5 Responses to “The Speedometer as Cod Piece”

  1. Dale Hall says:

    Great article, sums up my own feelings to a tee.

  2. Tom Buckley says:

    Howdy,
    In the motorcycle community it is known that the speedometers installed on on many bikes will be grossly inaccurate. At the time, I had owned a 2004 BMW R1150RT and did my own speedometer test*, and found that it was running fast at 60 MPH. It was indicating 62.8 when it should be at 60 MPH. I took my bike to a speedometer shop an had them install a ratio adapter that corrected the problem to 60.4 MPH. In an other instance, I was riding my motorcycle on I-84 in the gorge in Oregon and a rider came up to me, and we pulled off at the off ramp in Hood River, and he asked me how fast was I going, I told him I was going exactly 70 MPH, he told me his speedo was showing 84 MPH!
    *My test consist of going on the interstate and pulling off at a miler marker, zero out the trip odometer, and go to the next mile marker 60 miles away then pull off again, and write down the mileage. If the mileage differs beyond +/- 1 mile your speedo is off. Sometimes a speedometer shop can correct this, and sometimes by changing tire sizes can do also.

    • Al Grayson says:

      Riding motorcycles on public roads is gross negligence. I prefer a steel cage on wheels around me, not my precious (to me and to my wife and children) meat wrapped around the outside of a metal monster.
      A motorcycle will go clear through the best of modern cars if it T-bones the car. The middle of the car is where we ride.

  3. Al Grayson says:

    My car has a rated top speed of 115 mph. With the optional turbo engine in its hatchback version: 155 mph. Total insanity. A crash at over around 45-50 mph: near-certain death, both of the offending vehicle’s and the victim vehicle’s occupants. If not death, mangling and years of rehab, if ever.
    People who think they were going 70+ when they crashed either had braked down under 45 before hitting or didn’t crash as a sudden stop.
    Just look at the staged crash of a Ford Focus (next size up from my Fiesta) into a steel-armored huge block of concrete at 120 mph. The right rear wheel and tire are all that is left recognizable.
    Now we have Chryslers with 800+ Hp! Madness! Their speed is limited, not by running out of power (they could maintain top speed up a vertical cliff if their tires could grip) but by the monster godzilla engine’s reline.
    The highest legal speed on a public road is 85 in west Texas. 85 mph speedometers that won’t go any farther (easy with electronic speedometers) will suffice.
    You can keep your Bugatti 265 mph insanemobile away from me and my family, and your 700 mph salt lake car, too.

  4. Al Grayson says:

    Many years ago I went about 25 miles each way to a midweek evening meeting. Rush hour was past, so the roads were nearly empty.

    About 5 miles was on secondary streets – stop signs, lights – the rest was multilane freeway.

    Several times, I observed the rules of the road scrupulously – not an iota over the posted speed limits, absolute complete stops at every stop sign and red light. I kept up with the elapsed time each way.

    Then, on several occasions, I observed the rules on secondary roads just as I had in the earlier tests. But on the freeway, I maintained 90-100 mph. I repeated this experiment several times.

    Taking the shortest ETs of each, I found that by going 90-100 mph I “saved” less than ONE minute on the trip. The gas mileage didn’t suffer, for the car (a Citroën SM) increased efficiency of the drivetrain more than it lost aerodynamically up to around 100 mph. Certainly tire and other wear and tear increased considerably from 55 to 90-100 mph. The braking distance, just over 100 feet from 60-0, had to increase greatly, especially due to the car’s low aerodynamic drag Cx, which puts more of the braking duty from high speed on the tires (the brakes themselves can slow the wheels at any rate all the way to lockup without regard to road speed). The brakes are easily modulated to making the front tires howl without lockup from any speed of which the car is capable (about 150 mph (any data from over 100 mph is from sources other than me)).

    As with cars today, an impact with a solid, immovable, flat barrier is not survivable at over 40-50 mph. Offset collisions are worse. The SM had no airbags, 3 point passive belts only. At 90-100+ mph airbags wouldn’t make any real difference anyway.

    (Suddenly stopping from) speed kills.