Speeders should pay for driving like dimwits

May 17, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

It must have been a dream.

I had a dream that, sometime in the 1970s, the speed limit was lowered to 55 mph on the nation's highways. This happened after some folks in a gang known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) got cute and raised the price of crude oil, which led to a rise in gasoline prices. The reasoning was that driving at the reduced speed would save gasoline.

Of course, that was just a dream, right? Because gas prices were a lot lower then, nowhere near the $3 a gallon they are now. And with the way the "Drive For Five" crew has been zipping along our streets and highways, there can be no link between driving at lower speeds and saving gas.

But Amanda Knittle, a public affairs specialist with AAA's Mid-Atlantic regional office, said that was no dream. Apparently the speed limit was lowered in the 1970s for a couple of reasons.

"It was part of President Carter's energy conservation measures to preserve gas and save lives," Knittle said.

It's good to know I'm not living in an alternate universe.

So if driving at the posted speed limit of 55 mph - in other words, driving like you have some darned sense - saves gas, what's up with the "Drive For Five" crew? You know the folks who are members of the "Drive For Five" crew. They're the ones still zooming by you on the highways, streets, roads and even parking lots.

They're the ones gunning their engines, tailgating, steering their cars from the fast lane over to the slow lane, to the middle lane and back to the fast lane at speeds at least 20 mph above the posted speed limit. They're the ones who think their name is Captain Kirk, that their vehicles are the starship Enterprise and that they'll hit warp speed if they press their accelerators to the floor. They drive as though they want the price of gas to hit $5 a gallon, hence the name "Drive For Five."

In other words, the dimwits of driving.

Knittle doesn't view them that way, but she's a much nicer person than I am.

"People are very impatient and they're hurried," Knittle said in offering her theory of why excessive speeding persists. "They want everything at their fingertips and convenient. They want to drive their own cars rather than carpool."

They must also have a considerable surplus of disposable income to spend on gas. Most of the rest of us don't. I remember reading a front-page USA Today article early last month that said that if each and every one of us cuts our consumption of gas by just 3 percent, prices would drop precipitously.

That won't happen. The "Drive For Five" folks are messing it up for the rest of us. Many people are angry with oil companies and gas station owners about rising gas prices. Not me. My dudgeon is directed entirely at the "Drive For Five" crew. (Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said that trooper stops for speeding were higher in March and April of this year than they were for the same months last year.)

Since the "Drive For Five" crew members clearly have money to burn, I have a suggestion.

Let's double the fine for speeding. No, let's triple it. And if the "Drive For Five" crew members want to challenge their tickets in court, let's be sure there are judges who won't cut them a break and lower the fines. In fact, we should encourage judges to raise the fines if speeders plead guilty or are found guilty.

Gas is over $3 a gallon and these idiots are still doing 75 mph in a 55 mph zone? They clearly don't mind parting with their money. Let's accommodate them.

AAA Mid-Atlantic would like to accommodate those drivers who are serious about conserving gas. Here is a partial list of the organization's gas conservation tips:

1. Drive the posted speed limit or reasonably close to it. "Each 5 mph over 60 is like adding a dime to the cost of a gallon of gas," AAA says. "Driving 75 mph instead of 65 mph is like spending an extra 20 cents per gallon for gas - not counting the cost of a speeding ticket and increased insurance. Your gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph."

2. Regular tune-ups, AAA says, "can improve your gas mileage by an average of 4.1 percent." Engines not regularly tuned, especially in older model cars "can increase fuel consumption by 50 percent."

3. Keep tires inflated and at the proper pressure.

4. Don't put unnecessary things in the trunk, especially if they're heavy. "An extra 100 pounds in the trunk reduces a typical car's fuel economy by 2 percent," AAA says. (You members of the "Drive For Five" crew who carry dead bodies in your trunk will simply have to stop doing this.)

The AAA Mid-Atlantic Web site has more tips. Happy conserving.

And steer clear of the "Drive For Five" crew.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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