NPF: FASTER! FASTER!

In 1974 Congress passed the National Maximum Speed Law (NMSL) establishing 55 mph maximum speed limits across the United States in an effort to reduce fuel consumption (that 1973 Oil Embargo done spooked 'em good) and reduce highway deaths (as most modern safety features, from airbags to tempered glass, were not yet in place). Some people argued that the law worked, others argued that it failed, and pretty much everyone agreed that driving long distances on empty country roads or Interstate highways at 55 mph sucked a whole bunch. Furthermore, oil shocks and 1950s Deathmobiles were a thing of the past, so in 1987 the law changed to permit 65 mph limits; in 1995 it was repealed altogether. Since that time, speed limits across the country have been creeping upward. Texas – really, who else? – and Utah currently lead the nation with an 80 mph maximum. Don't worry, though. Texas about to raise it to 85, which would be the highest posted speed limit in the world.

In 2010, the last full year for which data are available, total motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. were the lowest since 1949. That's incredible if you stop to think about it. We drive a ridiculous amount as a nation and at increasing speeds, yet fatalities are declining sharply. This is evidence that today's new cars, with their dozen airbags, ABS, safety cages, crumple zones, and countless electronic safety features, are clearly capable of handling 65/70 in relative safety (NB: car accidents are still a leading cause of death for every age group under 55).

That said, 80 and 85 mph limits seem to be tempting fate at the point at which the average driver's skills and the physical limits of many of the cars on the road are strained. I'm going to start from the assumption, possibly overweighting my own preferences and experience, that most of us and our vehicles feel comfortable cruising between 70 and 75 mph on the highway in good weather. Since speed limits are neither followed nor enforced strictly, let us assume that posted limits of 80/85 mean that actual traffic will move anywhere between 85 and 90+ mph.

As a parent, child, or both, most of you have said or heard the phrase, "It's not you I'm worried about – it's all of the other drivers" at some point in your life (Is there anything we agree upon so completely in this country as that Other People are terrible drivers?) Simply put, 90 mph is really fast. Probably much too fast for most drivers to do safely. Cars handle much differently at that kind of speed and the time available to react to the road declines precipitously.

The real issue, though, is…well, look around you on the road. Maybe even look at your own car. Lots of us are driving what could charitably be called shitboxes. Unlike motor vehicle fatalities, the average age of vehicles on the road in the U.S. is at a record high of 11.2 years. Remember, that's an average in a year in which new vehicles sales increased sharply. We're talking about a lot of 15+ year old vehicles out there. And I'm sorry to say that your 1990s minivan, compact car, or family sedan is not really in any kind of condition to drive 90 mph. Hop in your 1994 Taurus or 1997 Chevy Cavalier, try going that fast, and tell me that you did not begin to lose faith in the structural integrity of your vehicle (and the validity of your will) beyond 75 mph. I'll wait.

Even with new-ish cars, the safety margins and specifications are for a new vehicle. Even regular age and wear dramatically reduce the car's capabilities in a short time. You might think that your 2008 car is still fairly new, but the shocks are softer, the steering is looser, and the brakes have a lot more play in them compared to when you drove it off the lot. Since most people skimp on or completely ignore regular maintenance on their cars, this is a big issue. But the biggest issue is your tires. Most compact and midsize cars, even brand new ones, have P, Q, or R speed rated tires. This means the design limit of the tire is between 95-105 mph. Consider how many cars are driving around on worn-out tires that should have been replaced years ago. Now consider those same cars being pushed to and beyond their speed ratings. Yeah.

I'm not so comfortable with Other Drivers doing 90. If everyone drove a brand new Volvo and had good driving skills, jacked up speed limits would be irrelevant. Here in the real world, that ding-dong in the 1991 Plymouth Duster (with more Bond-O than metal in the body at this point) going 90 on bald Chinese summer tires that he bought for $19.99 at Tire Barge's 2003 President's Day Blowout sale is probably going to kill someone. A lot of the vehicles on the road are not even safe at 70 or 75, and the danger increases exponentially at higher speeds. Since we seem to be so eager to follow the example of the Red States these days, I'm not looking forward to what another decade of Speed Limit Creep is going to bring.

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55 Responses to “NPF: FASTER! FASTER!”

  1. T.W. Says:

    Totally cool with 90 mph on the open highway…but in a freeway in or near city limits? Eh…that's really pushing it.

  2. wetcasements Says:

    But our Galtian overlords simply want to give us all the freedom to die in fiery, horrific, multi-vehicle catastrophes.

    You nanny-staters just don't get it!

  3. Spiffy McBang Says:

    I drive for a living, in my own car. Speed is very beneficial, and at this point I can drive both fast and safely better than damn near anyone else on the road. My car is a 1998 Dodge Neon, which I keep in as good a shape as I can afford, and I will be god damned if I want to push that thing past 85.

    In urban California it's not really an issue- 65 is the posted limit on the freeways where I go, so 75-80 is as high as I can go without risking a ticket. There are times I find myself pushing the speedometer a little higher. But if I'm going 90, it begins to feel like I'm floating.

    My memories of driving in Texas mainly revolve around no one understanding that the left lane is for passing. All passing occurred on the right. Combine that sort of extraordinary knowledge with the aforementioned 11.2-year-old average cars and this speed limit boost, and I'm sure only good things will happen.

  4. Middle Seaman Says:

    With the prevailing driving culture, driving a distance of 20 freeway miles at 60+ means being cut off 2-3 times, 1-2 drivers blocking the lane at 50 miles per, signaling is as popular as the Green Party and 20% of the drivers speak on the phone.

    What wrong with 90 miles per?

  5. c u n d gulag Says:

    Years ago, George Carlin had a great routine on drivers.

    He noted that anyone who drives slower than you do, is "an idiot."
    "Look at that guy in the left lane going 10 miles below the speed limit. What and idiot! Do you see that idiot?"

    And everyone who drives faster than you do, is "a maniac."
    "Well, looks like we're making some good time here toda… Holy Shit! Did you see that guy pass us? He was flying! What a maniac! Did you see that maniac? What a maniac!!!" *

    So, which one are you going to be?
    Me, I'm 54, with normally declining reflexes and vision that come with aging. I guess I'll be in the "idiot" category – so, I'll try to stay out of the LH lane.

    And I'm sure a lot of you "maniacs" will be passing me.
    Don't bother flipping me the bird. Between your speed, and my vision, it'll be wasted energy – since I probably won't see it anyway. I'll be too busy looking to avoid other "maniacs" on the road. :-)

    *Sorry, I tried to google that routine, but I can't find it. Maybe someone else can.
    Ed, you're a comedian, have you seen/heard it – can you provide a link?

  6. Major Kong Says:

    I had the opportunity to drive on the German Autobahns last year. Much of the Autobahn is speed limited, but there are still sections that are unrestricted.

    My rented Opel would only go 200 kph (around 120 mph) but that speed pretty much takes your full concentration. Which is why, by the way, the Germans don't have cup holders in their cars. You have to keep an eye on the rear view mirror – because an S-class Mercedes or A8 might be rocketing up behind you at 240 (150 mph). Hogging the left lane and not letting someone pass will get you a ticket over there.

    Keep in mind that the Germans don't just give a driver's license to any carbon-based life form that slithers into the DMV. Getting a license there is almost equivalent to getting a private pilot license in the US.

  7. E* Says:

    Natural selection.

  8. Exiled Antipodean Says:

    Well said. Freeways are generally pretty safe roads since it's access controlled and there's little danger of something hitting you from the side or front (which is the most deadly form of collision). So, sure getting your 1988 minivan up to 90mph on the freeway, not a great idea, but unlikely to kill many people.

    What's really dangerous is high speeds on more open roads where you have a much higher chance of cars crossing the road, or oncoming cars veering into you. I believe those kinds of conditions are where the plurality of traffic deaths occur in most developed countries. Going 80 instead of 65–even in a structurally sound car– when the tractor tries to lumber across the non-access controlled 2 lane road, that's when the deaths start happening.

  9. Paul Says:

    Jeez, dude, I live in NYC and drive 85-90 all the time. People in German cars are still passing me.

  10. JMG Says:

    The cars most suitable for urban driving, even urban freeway driving (which, let's face it, is where most people drive), are not suited for going faster than 80. My otherwise lovable 2004 Toyota Corolla, a wonderful car for Boston driving, gets squirrelly right around the 80 mph mark.
    BTW, Massachusetts, world famous for wild driving, has many accidents but relatively few fatalities. No place to build up the head of steam needed for fatal crashes.

  11. buckyblue Says:

    Was in the Orlando/Tampa area for spring break and driving a late model Taurus. Average speed on Highway 4 between the two cities is easily 80. Pushing the Taurus at 80+ took my full concentration. The number of old geezers driving some version of a beige Buick blasting past me at 90, a maniac as Gulag pointed out, was astounding. But then again, I didn't see any accident either.

  12. bb in GA Says:

    The Utah DOT conducted a traffic study after experimentally raising their limit on a portion of I-15 to 80 mph (from 75 mph) in 2009.

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/10/utah-dot-no-downside-to-80-mph-speed-limit-increase/

    “The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) announced last week that the experimental increase in the state’s maximum speed limit to 80 MPH has been a success in terms of safety.”

    “Overall we saw speeds increase between two and three miles per hour,” Braceras explained. “The speed differentials did increase… We saw no change in accident history, which with how careful we were in choosing this location it wasn’t surprising to us, but it was very good news to see that… The number of vehicles exceeding the speed limit decreased 20 percent.”

    They choose their location carefully which may have pushed the result in the good direction.

    I think the biggest factor long term higher speed running is tires. Constant high speed driving (> 80 mph) will show there first. Police cruisers are usually equipped with “high speed” tires. There is an extensive rating system for that – higher dollar, high speed tires.

    Another problem as noted is speed differential. I think those two will be big factors long term.

    Night driving is another issue. If you are going to run at higher speeds, you need a headlight system adequate to the job.

    I don’t have the latest data, but historically interstate highways have the lowest fatalities/passenger mile by a wide margin over other types of roadways.

    //bb

  13. Xynzee Says:

    @Mjr: In addition to ensuring that people are competent drivers there's another aspect to German autobahns, road worthiness of the vehicle. Whilst your Opal, may have been slow in comparison to an Audi let alone a GTR-3, I doubt you saw many clapped out combie vans chugging along. At least the Germans still have a sense that if you're going to let it all hang out, then it's got to have a minimum standard.

    Maybe it's just in keeping with the spirit of NPF, but you over looked another crucial element to this equation Ed: road condition.

    Given the current state of many roads in America, it wouldn't matter if everyone had a govt issued Merc or GTR-3. As you're off-roading anyway, you're better off with a Land Rover. Seeing how the GOP won't authorise so much as a paper clip being purchased if that could put someone to work whilst Obama is in power, don't expect the infrastructure to improve anytime soon.

    Also, part of the reason the Germans can make getting a license and car so difficult is that they also have viable public transport systems. So not having a car won't preclude you from living where you can afford, but still get to employment. Unlike certain Repug Governors in the NE.

  14. CaptBackslap Says:

    Montana tried ditching speed limits altogether for a "reasonable and prudent speed" requirement, but a court correctly found that unenforceable, so they went back to boring ol' numbers.

    Which means there's still no reason to go to Montana.

  15. Kulkuri Says:

    CaptBackslap beat me to it. I was going to mention Montana getting rid of speed limits in rural areas, then they set it at 100mph. That was the speed limit in '99 when we drove across Montana on a two lane highway. Since then they've been forced to lower it.

    With higher speed limits most people will just kick it up a notch and go a few miles an hour faster. Some will go like a bat out of hell, but they already do that.

  16. Major Kong Says:

    I have a (used) Audi A8. At 100 the car's just starting to hit its stride. When you get above 80 the suspension automatically lowers the car to improve handling and aerodynamics. Those Germans think of everything.

    It's not so much that the car is fast, I've driven many fast cars over the years, it's that it goes fast so effortlessly. No muss, no fuss. The flip side to that is it's easy to find yourself going a lot faster than you think you are.

  17. Elle Says:

    My memories of driving in Texas mainly revolve around no one understanding that the left lane is for passing. All passing occurred on the right.

    YES! I want to say that I've seen this in Mississippi and Alabama as well, but that might be a lie. This completely freaks me out, because I learned to drive in the UK, where driving happens on the left and overtaking happens on the right and undertaking people is the kind of thing that aggressive new Boxster owners do. The driving in the South that I saw gave me major cognitive dissonance. Also, I was driving a car, and felt somewhat like I'd missed being in the queue when F-150s were being distributed to all humans.

    Most European countries that I know about have an annual test that cars must pass to demonstrate that they're roadworthy, and have enough tread on their tires, and aren't breaching European emissions levels, and so on.

    I really like driving fast, although I know it's obnoxious and dangerous. It's probably about what you drive first, but American cars feel enormous to me, and with really cotton-wool like suspension, and not enough poke. I'm sure they're more comfortable for spending a lot of time in, which I guess is because you all drive much further as a matter of course.

  18. Monkey Business Says:

    I once took my 1997 Nissan Altima up to 105 between Indianapolis and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in the middle of the night.

    That part of the world is so flat and it's so dark at night that at that speed it's like being in outer space.

  19. DB Says:

    @c u n d gulag

    A clip of just that joke: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkxaF5Pq5D8

    More Carlin on driving:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&v=gaH916UHcQk&NR=1
    (The joke is somewhere in that performance)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZUwNXfG2ys
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzBAmj6HogQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsmZCsvE-sI
    (Some overlap between the last two, but the last one goes on where the second to last one cuts off.)

  20. Chicagojon Says:

    Speed+Economy also doesn't work – the car doesn't have to be 12 years old. My Honda Fit should never go 90+. I'll admit that I have looked down and find myself going 90+ but it's a tall box and high speeds and wind aren't good. There are an awful lot of smaller compact cars on the roads with shorter wheelbases that shouldn't be going 85 even when they're brand new.

    The national speed limit should be 75+ on interstates and tickets should be written for being in the left lane on 2 lane highways for more than a quarter mile without passing (which I'm fairly sure is the law). Lots of people will get pissed at cops, but the problem isn't speed or the age of cars – it's the idiocy of the drivers.

  21. NYD3030 Says:

    I am a single 29 year old male who currently owns two vehicles, a 02 Honda CRV that my dad sold me for ten dollars, and a 12 Subaru WRX that I bought in February after a giant promotion. I sometimes park them next to one another, write my name in lighter fluid on the lawn, turn on some Megadeth, light said fluid, and head bang vigorously to celebrate my stunning success. I own TWO cars – I'm vintage, a throwback to another era, where people under 30 had things…

    To Ed's point – the WRX, while not a particularly refined ride compared to a German uber-car, has similar driving characteristics at 70 and 130. Everything is much faster, and things can much more easily get out of control, but it's a very unified experience – you're driving the same car.

    The 10 year old CRV on the other hand – at 69 it's all candy and kisses. At 73, the center console begins to vibrate violently, as does the steering wheel. Road noise and vibration increase exponentially thereafter. I pushed it to 95. Once. On a steep downgrade driving US 131 in Buttfuck, MI. I think, in that moment, I briefly communed with the wayward spirit of Yuri Gagarin.

    Even if the nation were full of superb drivers, an average speed over 72 or 73 MPH will turn the freeway into a deathtrap. I'd feel safer traveling by catapult.

    PS – The CRV is for sale! It's like a mode of transportation coupled with The Demon Drop and made a baby! You want it!

  22. apunkt Says:

    *raises hand*

    I live in germany, and I drive on the Autobahn every day, as a part of my way to work. That particular road is not speed limited, but I usually go with the flow, meaning "Richtgeschwindigkeit", 130 km/h which translates to something like 80 mph I think. It's a four lane road and most of the other drivers are going about the same speed, something between 120 and 150 km/h. I never felt unsafe or in danger, but I guess that's a training thing.

    Also, on longer trips, I usually just set the cruise control to 160 km/h and steer around the other cars. :-D That actually is a normal travelling speed around here, and most people I know have cars which have absolutly no problem with that.

    What is true though:
    1.) Drivers licence tests are hard. And expensive: usually it costs about 1500-2000 Euros which is like 2500 Dollars.

    2.) Every car has to be checked at least once every two years by the T

  23. apunkt Says:

    2.) Every car has to be checked at least once every two years by the TÜV, and they are really, really strict.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technischer_%C3%9Cberwachungsverein
    Also, most cars get checked every year as part of the warranty and for better resale value. It's a cultural thing, I guess: I wouldn't buy a used car that is not "checkheftgepflegt".

    3.) The german government spends a ton of money on road maintenance. The Autobahnen are in the responsiblity of the federal government, not the local ones because they're so expensive. Everyone frets because of all the construction sites especially in the holiday season, but the roads are in good shape because of that. Where they are not, theres a speed limit which can be as low as 50 mph.

    So: high speeds are not really the problem, I think. If the infrastructure supports it, I don't really think 85 mph is inherently more dangerous than 65 mph.

  24. anotherbozo Says:

    Hey, Ed's still here! And not merely referencing earlier blogs yet while he goes off to More Important Pursuits. Goody for us. Maybe my crying jag helped.

    I sold my car 5 years ago and now depend on public transportation and cabs. You're all better off for it; I was a lousy driver.

  25. Jon Says:

    Having recently driven through Texas on my way from Boston to San Diego, all I can say is I am all for the higher speed limits. Could not get out of that state fast enough. Zoom zoom!

  26. Dookie Says:

    So much for No Politics Fridays huh?

    This could have been a good post, but, well…the politics that were needlessly interjected into it kind of spoiled it. I know it didn't for the majority of you fire eating liberals who comment here, but any good points the post made were lost to those of us who are not such because of the politics.

    Everything is about politics today…I hate that, I truely do…I don't think we even know how much politics taints our thinking anymore, whatever side you may be on.

  27. cackalacka Says:

    apunkt "So: high speeds are not really the problem, I think. If the infrastructure supports it, I don't really think 85 mph is inherently more dangerous than 65 mph."

    If we mean road infrastructure, that is only 1/2 the equation. You allude to the hefty training and inspection regimen, which is sorely lacking in the U.S. Case in point, the pleasant lady who flipped me off this morning because I wouldn't let her merge in from the shoulder after she attempted to by-pass a couple hundred other motorists queued up to drive around a construction site. Maybe if chick wasn't driving a mobile apartment or simultaneously having a conversation on her iPhone while cutting off hundreds of other people, I would have been more courteous.

    Another case in point, everyone commuting this evening, take a gander at the underside of our other motorists undercarriage (unless of course you're one of those assholes in a moving apartment and are too elevated to notice.) At least 1/4 of my fellow motorists have plastic bits dangling from the bottom, or exhausts dangling 2 inches from terra firma. And my state wants to do away with mandatory (yet obviously very cursory) inspections.

    It would be nice if speed limits would be inversely proportional to the car's weight. That would do more to liberate our fuel dependency than any CAFE standards or gas tax.

  28. Talisker Says:

    I used to hitchhike a fair bit in my younger days. The only time I was genuinely afraid was doing 90 mph down a busy section of British road (specifically the A1 somewhere near Newcastle) in an ancient shitbox of a Ford Fiesta.

    The driver dropped me off when he left the main road, and apologised for not being able to take me any further. No, it's all right, really. Excuse me, I need to stretch my legs and recover from the adrenaline rush of mortal terror.

  29. Major Kong Says:

    Mind you the 757 I fly doesn't even lift off until around 150 mph, and you steer it with your feet when you're on the runway.

  30. blahedo Says:

    One thing I've noticed driving in a variety of states with a variety of speed limits is that as the speed limit goes up, the traffic speed doesn't go up nearly as fast. Moreover, you're *much* more likely to see people driving *under* the speed limit when the speed limit is >65; I guess that in the 55 and 65 areas everybody figures that all cars *can* go that fast so all cars *should*, but in the 70 and 75 areas there's a bit more of people thinking that's too fast for them and they'll keep going at 65 thank you very much. (Or 60, or whatever.) This works out just fine as long as there's a general culture of keeping right except to pass, which I'm aware is more prevalent in some regions than others.

    (As an aside: I was living in Illinois when they actually made it illegal to camp out in the left lane, and started warning and even ticketing people for it. I was initially annoyed because I A) thought it would encourage weaving and B) could think of a number of reasons to legitimately remain in the left lane for longer than a minute. But, it turns out that the law was well-written with exceptions for all the things you'd want exceptions for, and it really did improve the flow of traffic in a lot of places. Having seen the results, it's a regulation I wholeheartedly approve of.)

  31. mel in oregon Says:

    i've always driven fast cars (blown mustang, ss z28 camaro) & love them. a good question is what kind of drivers get in the most accidents & are the most dangerous? insurance statistics show the younger the driver the more accidents. that's why a 16 boy pays so much. males are always more agressive than females, that's why they pay more. after 30, testosterone isn't as big a factor & rates drop. but the truth is insurance is like any industry, the top executives are incompetent & that's why everyone pays way too much for car insurance. what about the elderly? generally speaking, someone 70 or older, is not a safe driver. but then neither is the 40 year old flapping their jaws on a cell phone. car maintenance is very important as pointed out by the writer, especially tires. good point too on natural selection. got a laugh from that. too bad we don't have some kind of natural selection that weeds out the tea party & conservatives in general, especially the wallstreet crowd.

  32. Larry Dickman Says:

    comments from a traffic engineer friend:

    "To give Ed the perspective of a traffic engineer, crashes are the leading cause of death to age 34, at which point it goes to #3, behind heart disease and cancer. And human evolved to function at a peak speed of about 20 mph, think a quick sprint. Anything faster than that, our bodies won

  33. Larry Dickman Says:

    let's try this again:

    To give Ed the perspective of a traffic engineer, crashes are the leading cause of death to age 34, at which point it goes to #3, behind heart disease and cancer. And human evolved to function at a peak speed of about 20 mph, think a quick sprint. Anything faster than that, our bodies won’t survive without protection and our brains can’t process information as fast as we’re going.

    From a human factors perspective, 85 is just as fast as 55. And it’s really not that big of a deal to have the highest posted speed limit, there are highways in Montana and Idaho that have no posted speed limit, similar to the Autobahn.

    From a traffic engineering standpoint, the speed limit should be the 85th percentile speed, so 15% of drivers are expected to exceed it.

    From a roadway design standpoint, the speed limit is usually at or 10 mph below the design speed (the speed at which all the calculations for curve radii, sight distance, and superelevation are based) and the design speed is for the design vehicle, which is a tractor-trailer for highways. E.g., if the posted speed limit is 75, that would mean a semi can safely go 85. In a passenger car, with much different characteristics, specifically center of mass, you can safely go much faster than a semi. Also, in Texas, the proposed 85 speed limit is pretty much confined to west Texas, which is even flatter than Nebraska.

    And, in response to his comment about the cars not being able to handle it, you’re hard pressed to find a shitty car on the roads in Texas because the DMV has yearly vehicle inspection requirements. You can’t renew your tags if you need new brakes or shocks. He does have a valid point about tires.

    Basically, Texas is considering raising the speed limit in the desolate western pan handle where people already go much faster than that. Not really a big deal.

  34. uri Says:

    i've been on some of those texas roads where the current limit is 80. it was in deserted territory, between san antonio and el paso, where traffic is so sparse that running out of gas is a much more serious concern than crashing into another car. you can drive 90 and you still might not pass more than a dozen cars in an hour of driving.

  35. Number Three Says:

    I don't think there was a 1991 Plymouth Duster. There were a few "trim" packages of other models called a "Duster" in the 1990s . . . but that's a clown car, bro.

    Seriously . . . living in the D. of C., I rarely drive fast any more. Or even drive. But I remember driving fast . . . and I think that this is about it:

    (1) The road has to be in good shape;

    (2) the car has to be in good shape;

    (3) the driver has to be in good shape (alert, awake, not under the influence); and

    (4) repeat (3) for every other driver on the road!

  36. superking Says:

    The good news is that at 85-90 MPH, everyone gets really, really shitty mileage. Even diesels. If you have a V6 or a V8, well, I hope you like filling up every 200 miles. This will hopefully moderate how people approach their driving. My car is a turbo straight four, and I get like 20-22 mpg at 90. It's fun, but I only do it when I go out to have fun driving. I'll never understand people who drive trucks or SUVs and do more than 65.

  37. Anonymouse Says:

    It really is other people on the road you need to look out for. On my commute to/from work, I drive on a flat, wide, open road that was once part of a railroad bed, now a highway for cars. You couldn't ask for a better road. The speed limit is 50. At any given time 1/3 of the drivers will be doing 30, another 1/2 are on their cellphones and weaving between the lines, and everyone else is just trying to get to work.

  38. Vinny Says:

    Ha! You speak the truth about these old cars on the road like the 94 Taurus. I had to junk both my 92 and my 93 Taurus 2 years ago. They had multiple problems, but the scariest problems were the rotted brake lines and completely rusted suspension parts. I drove it as carefully as I could, and loved those cars, but both had so many problems that it just was not worth the cost of the repairs.
    I still see folks driving them around that look to be in much worse shape than mine. Godspeed to him that does 85 in one of those cars.

  39. J A W Says:

    When I drove out East in the summer of '98 from Oregon, I got to drive in Montana when it had no speed limit. I probably drove the slowest through that state because you lose your reference frame. When you see a speed limit of 65mph, you get a small thrill when you got 70mph, like you're getting away with someone. When you don't see any numbers posted, you go at whatever speed you were comfortable with.

    Small sample size? Hell yes, but the general flow of traffic was doing no more than 5mph faster.

    The other concern is at night. Montana is full of big ass animals and you really don't want to hit them doing 90.

  40. infostud Says:

    Try riding a motorcycle and you realize just how much "other drivers" really ARE idiots.

  41. Major Kong Says:

    @infostud

    I used to ride motorcycles – until the proverbial old lady in a Buick came inches from taking me out one day.

    And that was in the 1980s – before the invention of the SUV, the Cell Phone and the cupholder.

  42. Nick Says:

    Ever driven across Utah or Nevada, Ed? There's really no reason not to go 80+ MPH. My old 91 Toyota Pickup isn't capable of more than about 75-80 (60-65 uphill) anyway, so it's a bit of a moot point for me, but the drive from Salt Lake City to Reno is about the same at 90 as it is at 70, except that it's over quicker.

  43. sluggo Says:

    I drove a garbage truck with a 55mph governed on it from Michigan to San Francisco. Top that!

  44. JazzBumpa Says:

    I have to correct you on automotive safety glass. Tempered glass has been used for many decades. By the 40's, or earlier, it was common in vehicles.

    It is applicable in all vehicle locations except windshields.

    Laminated safety glass is used exclusively in windshields, and can be used anywhere in a vehicle, those it usually isn't, due to cost.

    The biggest breakthrough (ironically) development in safety glass was in the mid 60's, with controlled adhesion interlayer that made laminated product much more penetration resistant, and therefore far less likely to allow a partial ejection. I'll spare you the gory details.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  45. argh Says:

    I dunno… this feels like something where I would really like to see what the scientific literature says about it, because the results are often non-intuitive. 95 MPH does seem really fast, but then, so is 85 MPH, and somehow we manage that pretty well even while listening to music and eating food with one hand.

    One thing that I've read is that the biggest danger is not so much high speeds, but high speed DIFFERENCES. If one lane is traveling at 90 and the other lane is traveling at 70, that's very dangerous, much more so than just having both lanes going at 90.

    Another thing that worries me is driver fatigue. I know that I'm not a good driver when I've been on the road for 6+ hours and I start getting sleepy, it's just plain luck that I've never had a crash from that. If raising the speed limit gets everyone to their destination faster, so that they're on the road for less time, that could actually increase safety.

    Oh and one other thing… why on earth are we so nutty about terrorism? Car crashes kill more people every day than 9/11 did. We should be spending the entire military budget on reducing car crash fatalities, and scrap the entire air force to pay for that if we need to.

  46. Major Kong Says:

    The fastest I've ever gone on the ground was 300 kmh (186 mph) – in a French train.

    Pretty amazing ride. It actually banks into the turns. You're passing cars on the autoroute like they're standing still.

    And when another TGV passes you in the opposite direction, with a combined speed of 360 mph – whoa!

    Oh, and you get up and walk to the bar and have a drink.

    Feel that honey? No turbulence!

  47. schmitt trigger Says:

    I've also diven on German Autobahns. Three things make it safe to drive at high speeds:

    Excellent layout. For instance: At road intersections, the main high speed road is always level, the secondary road is the one with the overpass our underpass. There are no surprises waiting for you on the blind side of the intersection.

    Vehicles designed for high speed driving. No overweight, high-center-of-gravity trucks or SUVs.

    Most importantly, driver education. If you approach a slower moving vehicle and flash the headlights, it will move to the right. No big fuss, no finger-flashing, no irate looks.

  48. lless Says:

    Just sit back and watch natural selection work its magic.

  49. Major Kong Says:

    Other than the daily 70-car pileups and mass fatalities, the unregulated "free road" would be a highly efficient transportation system.

  50. Xynzee Says:

    @apunkt:
    "What is true though:
    1.) Drivers licence tests are hard. And expensive: usually it costs about 1500-2000 Euros which is like 2500 Dollars."

    Far out!! That'll certainly select out a fair portion of those who shouldn't be driving in the first place.

    But it certainly helps that Germany is smaller and also offers effective public transport. Unlike the States and Australia huge areas to cover which makes maintaining a road network cumbersome. The well maintained public transit system means the country doesn't need to hand out licenses on the backs of cereal packets like the US and Aus does.

    @sluggo: you can't leave a story like that hanging like that.

  51. mother earth Says:

    You will fucking die in Arkansas going 80 – 85 mph. People do it here all the time. Combine heavy traffic, tons and tons of 18 wheelers and shitty interstates in sections……death! I can't even imagine interstates with sparse traffic. Maybe in my dreams.

  52. Major Kong Says:

    France has beautiful autoroutes, with sparse traffic once you get outside of the major cities. The speed limit is 130 kmh (80 mph) and speeds tend to average closer to 90mph.

    The flip side is you pay dearly for the privilege of driving on them. Tolls are very steep. I drove from Paris to Verdun, which took a little over 2 hours and I think I paid 15 EU in tolls.

  53. BD of MN Says:

    Adding to @Argh's point, all the big corporate trucking companies have governed their tractor/trailers at 65mph for fuel economy purposes. (and hey, when you're paying the driver by the mile, who cares how slow they're going?)

    I drive a 2005 Sterling day cab, and occasionally pull 50,000lbs of steel plate down a 75mph interstate in N and/or S Dakota. No governor on my truck, I can comfortably cruise the Dakotas speed limits (and 70 here in MN), but I get paid by the hour…

  54. Kevin NYC Says:

    I have a 1995 Celica GT Convertible. I have done 100 in it but that was a while ago.. now the roof makes too much noise…

    On Rte 80, go 80 mph. on a smaller route go 62 mph.

    on a smooth highway with a 55 mph speed limit… watch for cops, stay behind someone faster and eek out 68 -70.

    but I pay attention when I drive and keep two hands on the wheel.

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