Monday, June 30, 2014

I feel the need... the need for speed!

Just back from a 1400-mile trip to Winchester VA (and return) with an observation about American drivers.

Most of them should have their licenses suspended.

What ever happened to "slower traffic keep right"?  Whatever happened to "don't block an intersection"?  Whatever happened to common courtesy?

The problem here, of course, is that "being stupid" is not a moving violation.  My favorite "stupid" is what my friend, Nick, calls "the rolling roadblock":  two (or more) cars abreast all at the same speed.  Yes, they're traveling at the speed limit so, technically speaking, nobody is "faster traffic" and therefore nobody is "slower traffic", either.  Regardless, the left lane is putatively for "passing traffic", and a vehicle not passing shouldn't be there.  Even if they do exceed the other cars' velocity by 0.0004 mph.

Analogous to that is the practice by some semi drivers.  (They drive semi's; they're not partially drivers...  Wait, let me think about that some more.)  Picture a line of semi's in the right lane.  Suddenly, one of them pulls out as if to pass.  Twenty minutes later, the truck pulls back into the right lane having passed all three of the trucks blocking its path.  Behind it in the left lane is a line of cars a mile long.

There is a solution to both these odious practices.  Digital technology makes it not only possible, but cheap:  You want to use the Interstates?  Okay, you have to have one of these "left lane usage indicator"s (LLUI or "Louie") affixed to the back of your car.  It's a huge illuminated stopwatch display and it has a repeater on your dashboard.  It detects that you've moved into the left lane and starts a timer.  If you leave the left lane before 45 seconds have elapsed, the timer resets to zero;  otherwise, the display turns from yellow to red and continues counting up.  If you leave the left lane before 90 seconds, the timer resets to zero;  otherwise, the timer continues counting up, and only stops counting up when you leave the left lane;  it does not reset to zero.  A stopped red timer is an automatic ticket for "obstructing traffic" when any patrolling trooper spots it.

No Louie on your trunk?  Stay off the Interstate because it's an automatic "obstruction" ticket to cruise without your Louie.

But wait!  What if there's a HUGE line of traffic?  Maybe I can't pass them all without going like... 120mph?  If I get a ticket for 120-in-a-70, I'll have to sell my house to pay the ticket!  Relax!  There's no speed limit in the left lane.  Just don't pull out in front of something that is obviously gaining on you.

Of course, there is another solution that doesn't require any sort of technology.

If we take all the speed limits off all the Interstates, Ma and Pa Kettle will no longer be able to squat in the left lane "doing the limit" because there won't be any limit.  Some of those drivers may just decide to not travel by Interstate.  They'll tell you it's because there are so many crazy drivers going at crazy speeds, but the real reason will be that they would much rather travel on highways that accommodate their skill level.

Yes, there will be accidents, but after the first few weeks I believe the accident rate will begin to look like what Germany's Autobahn experiences.  This has, in fact, happened.  In 1994 when Congress dropped '55' as the National Maximum Speed Limit, Montana changed its Interstate speed limit to 'Reasonable & Prudent', and in their first nine months of R&P they saw a 28% decline in highway fatalities.  The crashes they did have were in almost all cases spectacular.  No one should be surprised that two cars closing at 250mph will leave no survivors, but the frequency of those crashes was so low that the overall fatality rate plummeted.

How did this happen?  There were two reasons:  the first reason was that, with no numerical speed limit, drivers could no longer feel justified about monopolizing the left lane;  they moved right to cede the leftmost lanes to faster traffic.  Civil engineers call this "lane discipline".  The second reason harks back to my second paragraph:  drivers whose skill level was not appropriate to an Interstate highway abandoned the Interstates for secondary roads with speed limits their skills could handle.

I'm trying to find the down-side to this but can't.

The Interstates should be America's Autobahn.