Speed demons haunt responsible drivers

GETTING THERE

January 15, 2007|By MICHAEL DRESSER

Accidents are caused by *INCOMPETENT DRIVERS* ! Those with the skill to drive [more than] 100 mph aren't INCOMPETENT." The preceding statement was posted on an Internet group site as part of a discussion of the merits of speed cameras.

Such profound reasoning is more common than you might think. Judging by my e-mail, there is a substantial minority of "skilled" drivers on the road who chafe at such archaic notions as speed limits. It has been an interesting experience to gain an insight into the world view of the "Right to Speed" lobby.

The key to understanding extreme speeders is to recognize that they are superior beings. They know that those who drive at the speed limit - or even with the flow of traffic - are lesser creatures whose sensibilities deserve no consideration.

Their "right" to drive at whatever speed they choose is paramount. It is conferred upon them by the muscle of their engines. Their ability to push the pedal to the floor is a skill on the order of practicing neurosurgery. Who judges how skilled they are? They do.

"We have cars with V-rated tires that can be safely used up to 130 mph, and suspensions and engines to match, and our highways can safely support it when weather and traffic conditions permit," writes one reader. "Speed gets you there quickly, and [it's] fun as hell you should try it sometime."

You, the less skilled driver, have no rights. If a speeder startles you and leaves you shaken by passing you at 90 or 100 mph, tough. If your cars collide, it's your fault for not being skilled enough to get out of the way.

Older people whose reflexes aren't what they used to be should stick to the side streets or stay at home. Where do they get this quaint notion that 40-50 years of paying gasoline taxes give them a right to use the highways in peace?

One reader e-mailed an interesting idea: Create a graduated driver's license under which certain "trained" drivers would be authorized to ignore the speed limits that apply to the less skilled.

"A modern car is safer at 85 MPH than your dad's car from the 1950s driving at 65 MPH with 4 drum brakes, a rudimentary suspension, bias ply tires. If you disagree, you have a poor understanding [of] physics and vehicle dynamics," this reader wrote. "You are so misguided in your thought process. The problem is driver training not speed. Germany is the only example needed."

The Right to Speed lobby is fond of pointing to Germany's Autobahn, with its considerable stretches of highway with no mandatory speed limit. They are less likely to cite the Austrian or Swiss autobahns, with top speed limits of 75 mph.

In fact, the German Autobahn is an anomaly within an increasingly unified European highway system. Not a year goes by that German officials aren't faced with calls to impose a speed limit. Only the clout of the auto lobby keeps the drag strip open. Even now there is an advisory limit of 81 mph. Go faster and you're presumed to be at least partly at fault in any accident.

Before we open up our interstates to Autobahn driving, it might be worth taking some other issues into consideration.

Unlike the Autobahn, our interstates are infested with Americans, to whom lane discipline is a foreign concept. What makes the Autobahn survivable is that for Germans, passing on the right is verboten in practice as well as in law.

Extreme speeders commonly insist that the world would be a better place if everyone (but themselves) stayed out of the left lane. But try driving in the middle lanes of any interstate at a modest 5 mph above the speed limit. You'll find the Speed Breed is just as happy to zoom by you on the right as the left.

The Autobahn also has some features the extreme-speed advocates are less likely to mention. A motorist can have his or her license suspended for tailgating. Many sections have "dynamic" speed limits that use sensors and electronic signage to adjust the number for weather, congestion and road conditions.

Until Americans learn to pass only on the left, until the Autobahn's smarter features are adopted and until pigs fly, my "misguided thought process" says speed limits need to be enforced for "skilled" and "unskilled" drivers alike.

Some of us, with our poor understanding of vehicle dynamics, hold the view that the No. 1 skill a driver needs is not the ability to control a vehicle when weaving through traffic and around curves.

It's the ability to control one's own behavior.

And by that standard, those who indulge in the thrill of extreme speeds are truly incompetent.

Speed cameras? You bet. Put them up all over. Not to extract revenue but to prevent road murders.

Most of all, let's install one on Route 27 in Mount Airy in memory of Flora Snowden, 63, who was killed there Jan. 6 in a crash that police believe was the result of two Mustang drivers racing.

The green car got away.

gettingthere@baltsun.com

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