The Inalienable Right to Speed

street racer photo

Kent Sepkowitz makes a very interesting point in his New York Times op-ed No Need For Speed about car design: They are all designed to go faster than the law permits.

"Most cars can travel over 100 miles an hour — an illegal speed in every state. Our continued, deliberate production of potentially law-breaking devices has no real precedent. We regulate all sorts of items to decrease danger to the public, from baby cribs to bicycle helmets. Yet we continue to produce fast cars despite the lives lost, the tens of billions spent treating accident victims, and a good deal of gasoline wasted. (Speeding, after all, substantially reduces fuel efficiency due to the sheering force of wind.)"

steve mqueen driving photo

At least he knew how to drive.

He notes that speeding is the cause of 30% of all traffic deaths in the USA, about 13,000 people per year, and that 41% of alcohol-related fatalities are associated with speeding. His solution is simple: design cars so that they cannot go faster than 75 MPH. "Sure, it would take us longer to get from here to there. But thousands of deaths a year are too great a cost for so adolescent a thrill as speeding." ::New York Times

Tom Vanderbilt, author of How We Drive, notes that " There would be fewer lives lost, less of a social cost in crashes (twice the cost of congestion, some estimates have found), and a reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. We also wouldn't need to spend vast sums for police troopers to sit on the side of the road (or install automated speed cameras) and catch the random trickle of offenders. Instead of trolling around trying to clamp down on the unpleasant side effects, why not go straight to the source?

It remains a good and open question why cars are sold with the ability to perform at over twice the statutory limit. We tend to bang on about "personal responsibility," freedom, etc. I frankly don't really care whether someone, like the Lamborghini driver recently in Los Angeles whose car disintegrated into flame upon high-speed impact with a parking structure, chooses to take his own risks. But, given that the roads are public, shouldn't the rest of us have the freedom not to be routinely threatened by the actions of people like this?" ::How We Drive

We like to note the additional benefits: Slower cars don't need so much crash protection and can be lighter and more fuel efficient. Gas cars don't need such big engines and electric cars can go much farther. Who loses?

UPDATE: Jalopnik suggests that Dr. Sepkowitz stick to his day job. NY Times Calls For Speed-Limited Vehicles, Uses Flawed Logic
More on Tom Vanderbilt in TreeHugger
Book Review: Traffic By Tom Vanderbilt
More on Slow Cars
High Gas Prices = Fewer Auto Deaths
55 MPH: It's time to bring it back.
55 MPH Movement Is Gaining Speed
Our Radical Gas-Saving Tip: Drive 55 (or whatever the speed limit ...
Life Begins at Thirty ( MPH )