Peter’s Five Steps: National Speed Limits

In my original post, I briefly outlined the need for a national speed limit:

Reestablish a national speed limit. In 1973, the National Maximum Speed Limit (public law 93-239) briefly penalized states that refused to set their maximum speed limits to 55mph (88 km/h) by withholding funds for transportation projects. The law was fully repealed in 1995, allowing states to set their own speed limits. Something like the National Maximum Speed Limit must be reestablished, either at 55mph (88km/h) or 60mph (96km/h).

Many would likely say that such a measure is impractical (in fact, the National Motorists Association made just that argument in fighting to repeal the National Maximum Speed Limit).  But the fact is, there is no real reason to have it above 60mph from a purely economic standpoint.  For every 5mph (8km/h) over 60mph (96km/h) you drive, it is the equivalent of paying an extra 20 cents for gasoline, according to fueleconomy.gov.  Furthermore, such a measure, while increasing slightly the amount of time required to travel places, would encourage more relaxed driving – I find myself much calmer driving at the speed limit than I would speeding at even 5mph over the posted limit.  I routinely drive at or close to 60mph when I drive on the highways, and very rarely does this get me someplace significantly later than it would have otherwise.

Such a national law, however, is nothing if not enforced.  Having been witness to (and being in the same car with) people driving at 95mph down Interstate 5 during the daylight hours in a state motorpool van, speed limit signs are not enough incentive.  Thus, I propose two possible measures:

  • Prohibit cars from traveling faster than the posted limit.  This could be done with a computer chip in the car and a radio broadcast unit that accompanies a speed limit sign.  Tampering with either of these would be a federal misdemeanor.  Drivers would still have to use common sense – there are certainly times when traveling below the posted limit is not only desirable, but necessary.  Emergency vehicles would be exempt from such limitations.
  • Ticket drivers automatically based on how many miles/hour they drive over the limit.  This would mean having to have some method of scanning cars and their license plates as they move.  An episode of Seaquest DSV shows such a system in place, with a barcode scanner reading the plate of a passing motorcycle and immediately ticketing the driver for speeding.  The reality of this system may be sketchy, however.

Of course, any remedy is likely to have tradeoffs.  Implementing any sort of prohibition system that explicitly limits or penalizes drivers in this manner requires a significant investment in technology, manpower competent enough to maintain said technology, and the maintenance associated with such a system.  However, I argue that ticketing random drivers isn’t enough to cut down on speeding and needless gas consumption.  The rules must be applied equally to all, and a mechanized system appears to be the best route.

  • http://www.energysoapbox.org/ Sean

    I don’t know that I support governmentally-mandated driving prohibitions. It’s an interesting idea, though, to be sure.

    If we forcefully try to change a person’s behavior by automatic fines for the purposes of conserving oil, we’ll just end up alienating this person and, almost assuredly, cause him to waste energy in other areas of his life. I would personally rather see the government step in with incentives for auto manufacturers to produce cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles. I also say we toughen pollution and smog standards for older vehicles (with financial incentives to encourage attrition rather than repair).

    Lets make the average person feel good about conservation, not force them into it! That, I think, is the only way to get traction.

  • http://www.energysoapbox.org Sean

    I don’t know that I support governmentally-mandated driving prohibitions. It’s an interesting idea, though, to be sure.

    If we forcefully try to change a person’s behavior by automatic fines for the purposes of conserving oil, we’ll just end up alienating this person and, almost assuredly, cause him to waste energy in other areas of his life. I would personally rather see the government step in with incentives for auto manufacturers to produce cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles. I also say we toughen pollution and smog standards for older vehicles (with financial incentives to encourage attrition rather than repair).

    Lets make the average person feel good about conservation, not force them into it! That, I think, is the only way to get traction.

  • http://watstein.blogspot.com/ Marcus

    In the oil embargo/shortage in the 1970’s the Feds did reduce the speed limit to 55mph but it was later learned that reducing the speed from 65 to 55 actually didn’t save that much gas and that is why the speed limit 55 was lifted. Now I do follow the 65 speed limit in California and belive that if people were to drive at or below the speed limit then they would be fine on the gas issue but people (sean) do sometimes go faster than the posted speed and I would support a device that would limit speed but also it should only be implemented when the autodrive features of the car driving itself are created. Untill then if a person speeds and doesn’t get the ticket or get killed then they are spending more in doing so. Nuff said.

  • http://watstein.blogspot.com Marcus

    In the oil embargo/shortage in the 1970’s the Feds did reduce the speed limit to 55mph but it was later learned that reducing the speed from 65 to 55 actually didn’t save that much gas and that is why the speed limit 55 was lifted. Now I do follow the 65 speed limit in California and belive that if people were to drive at or below the speed limit then they would be fine on the gas issue but people (sean) do sometimes go faster than the posted speed and I would support a device that would limit speed but also it should only be implemented when the autodrive features of the car driving itself are created. Untill then if a person speeds and doesn’t get the ticket or get killed then they are spending more in doing so. Nuff said.