Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Getting Older - 55 MPH

As most of us recall, from 1973 to 1987, we had a 55mph national speed limit. People in Rhode Island didn't give a damn because they didn't have enough room to go any faster anyway. But for those of us in the central and western states it was a pain-in-the-ass. We dealt with it by installing CB radios and embracing "Smoky and the Bandit." A little later we simply installed radar detectors and stopped talking to one another on the CB.
That I was getting older first dawned on me when I would ask a young adult, say a twenty-something in the late 1980s, if he or she knew why we had a national speed limit. Few of them knew the answer and responded that it was to promote highway safety which is what the propaganda of the day had been selling for years. The 55mph national speed limit had morphed into a "safety issue" from its original purpose, which was to cut fuel use after the 1973-74 Arab Oil Embargoes. A number of lucrative constituencies dependent on the 55mph limit had sprung up in the ensuing years. Except for a phony fuel shortage about 1978, the actual fuel crisis had effectively ended by 1975.
Rigid enforcement of the 55mph speed limit became a ready source of income for local jurisdictions and an entire industry of public service announcement producers prospered by making TV spots telling us to stay alive, drive 55. However, as it tends to be with stupid laws, we the people became scofflaws and found ways to do the reasonable thing regardless of the nutty law that had outlived its purpose by 1975.
State governments, being closer to the people, generally became lax in their enforcement of the 55 limit and it became common knowledge that up to 65mph was tolerated. The feds threatened to withhold highway repair funds from those States that refused to enforce the limit and Montana responded by issuing $5 speeding tickets regardless of the speed.
It took us 12-years (25% of our adult life span) after the end of the Arab Oil Embargo to rid ourselves of that foolishness. The same kind of people that doggedly clung to the 55mph speed limit are now promoting windmills to replace fossil electric plants which is roughly equivalent to proposing pedicabs to replace cars. God, save us from the busybodies.


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