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calendar   Monday - April 11, 2011

A Different Kind Of Freedom

Texas: 80mph isn’t enough. We want 85mph!




The speed limit on some highways in Texas may be raised to 85 mph, the highest in the nation, under legislation the Texas House approved Wednesday.

The measure passed on a voice vote was part of a larger transportation bill. It would authorize the Texas Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit on designated lanes or entire stretches of roads after doing engineering and traffic studies, The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday.

The Senate is considering a similar bill.

“They have high-speed roadways in Europe, and there could be some merit in having some of those highways in Texas,” said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who introduced the bill. “Given the right engineering, we should consider it.”

Texas has more than 520 miles of interstate highways on which the speed limit is 80 mph.

One such stretch of Interstate 10 “is as nice a road as you can build; it’s flat with a long line of sight, wide lanes and good shoulders,” said Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso. “For people like us who travel that long distance, it could be good” to raise the limit to 85 mph, he said.

Some auto insurers oppose the measure, citing safety concerns.

“Obviously, the two things that kill most people on our highways are speed and alcohol. Increasing it to 85, or even 75, will have a dramatic impact on the death and injury rate on those highways where it’s implemented,” said Jerry Johns, a spokesman for the Southwestern Insurance Information Service.

He said drivers already exceed 70 mph highway speed limits.

“But 85 mph is simply too fast to drive even on a flat road. Any little hitch can cause an accident at that speed. There is still traffic on those roads, and to drive 85 mph is simply ludicrous,” he said.

85 is ludicrous? And just too dangerous? So I guess this means that all those people in those bitsy little wind-up cars in France, Italy (where you can go 93mph on the big highways), Germany (das autobahn, duh) must all just fall over dead non-stop. Give me a break. Even in tiny little Ireland the speed limit is 75mph.

But it’s for your own good! And besides, driving fast wastes gasoline!

Some car insurers, however, oppose the bill:

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, high speeds were a factor in about one-third of all fatal crashes in 2009. The faster you’re traveling, the greater the distance needed to bring your vehicle to a complete stop and the longer it takes a driver to react to emergency situations, according to IIHS. If an accident does occur at a higher speed, there is a strong likelihood that the crash impact will exceed the protection available to vehicle occupants.

On top of safety concerns, speeding increases fuel consumption. Every 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.24 per gallon for gas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

To that last point I call bullshit. No, I am not denying the physics, I understand how doubling the velocity quadruples the amount of work done, which is another way of saying that it’s much harder to push a car through the air at higher speeds than it is at lower speeds. My counter point is that most cars in America are simply geared wrong for driving at those kinds of speeds. I’m certain that this can be overcome.

Look, I drive a mangy old Saturn. It was no hot rod to begin with, with it’s 1.9L 124hp/122 lb/ft engine and a 5 speed. While the car is quite aerodynamic, that little engine is spinning way too fast at 85mph. In 5th gear that’s about 3500rpm. Hey, I live in NJ, and on the weekend there is no speed limit on the highways. NONE. No, that’s not true. The speed limits are almost never enforced, and the entire state gets out on the highways and drives around like Al Unser, making up for the bumper to bumper traffic plodding they do on the same roads at rush hour M-F. So they’re out there going 80, 85, 90 ... and you’ll still have some damn SUV or mongo pickup truck tailgating you, or some idiot passing you on the right and diving in right in front of you. But that’s Joisey; only the strong survive. My point is that I’m pretty certain my car could hold that speed if the engine was turning 1000rpm less, maybe even 1250rpm less. I find myself looking for an extra gear every time I get up to 70mph. My secondary point is that 85mph or faster is the reality in tiny little NJ, with the most dense population in the country. We do it and manage not to die constantly. So big old wide open Texas should be able to handle it with no sweat. And our deer population is at least as big a road hazard as their armadillo population.

My wife’s Spec V has a 6 speed, and her car has almost half again more power than mine (175hp/180 lb/ft). The two vehicles are about the same size and weight; hers is way faster than mine. But her 6 speed is a very close ratio one, and even in 6th at highway speeds the engine is turning far too much. At 80mph her car could easily turn 2000rpm less and hold the speed even on a moderate grade. As it is right now, at 85 in 6th her car is just waking up and starting to get rowdy. Tap the gas and it leaps to 100 in a couple seconds. Her 2.5L engine has enough pull down low so that you can drive around town at 30mph in 6th gear and not lug the engine. It has the wrong gears for the amount of engine, period. 6th should run the engine at idle at 50mph. It shouldn’t be usable at all outside of the highway.

And we both drive weak little 4 cylinder cars compared to the V6 and V8 vehicles everyone else has, where 250hp is below average. Given a proper overdrive gear designed for this speed, they’d get the same highway gas mileage they do at 65mph, because their engines are already providing far more power than required. So let’s see some better gear ratios, m’kay?

As for the safety angle ... well, I’ve got a couple ideas. The Staties everywhere should patrol the highways and give out more tickets for following too closely than they do for speeding. Speed doesn’t really matter, it’s how far away you are from the car in front of you when somebody does something unexpected. Paying attention helps a lot too, and Americans utterly suck chunks at that. We’re too busy eating, texting, talking on the phone, fiddling around with the music, etc to pay any heed to the road. And our big fat asses are sunk into those big plush seats in our cars with their super soft ride and total sound insulation: even the driver is just along for the ride. It’s hard to find a car or truck that even has a manual transmission. Shifting gears is too much to ask of us. We aren’t really involved in the process.

In the same vein I’d set standards for breaking distance. Fill the car or truck up to it’s rated carrying capacity, and a full tank of gas. Now from 65mph it has to stop 10 times in X distance or less, then it has to stop in Y distance or less from 90mph, 10 times in a row. Doesn’t matter at all what size vehicle it is, whether it’s a moped or a city bus or a cement mixer. If it can go that fast, then it has to be able to stop properly. Vehicles that can’t handle the high speeds carry a rear window sticker with their maximum rated speed, and woe be unto the driver going 85 in a truck only brake rated for 60.

Vehicle inspections would be stricter as well. New Jersey would have to go back to that shock absorber thing they used to do, where some gizmo made your car bounce up and down. They don’t do that one anymore. Come to think of it, the state run outsourced inspection rather sucks, but to “save money” they give you a 2 or a 4 year sticker.

In Germany I’ve heard that the highway police check your tires when they pull you over, and if you’ve been out on the autobahn going 150mph and your tires are only rated for 85mph ... well, they don’t like that very much. And they’re Germans. So you know what happens. (what, you mean they invade Poland? Again?? No wise-ass, they fine your butt off, big time)

So 85mph on American highways can be perfectly safe. We need to make sure we have the right kind of vehicles for it, in good repair, we need to learn how to actually drive instead of riding along, and we need to learn to give the guy ahead plenty of room. And if you are the guy ahead, that means you move over to the next lane when someone comes up behind you. You hear that Pennsyltucky drivers? Try and wrap your pointy little heads around that one: you don’t own the fast lane, so move the EFF over when someone comes up behind you. Geex.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 04/11/2011 at 01:48 PM   
Filed Under: • Oil, Alternative Energy, and Gas Pricesplanes, trains, tanks, ships, machines, automobiles •  
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Oh, and here's some kind of visitor flag counter thingy. Hey, all the cool blogs have one, so I should too. The Visitors Online thingy up at the top doesn't count anything, but it looks neat. It had better, since I paid actual money for it.
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