Drive It Like You Stole It   Leave a comment

That speed limit sign beside the side of the road may seem arbitrary government caprice … and it most probably is if it reads 55 MPH and has been there for decades.

However, maybe it isn’t. Since Congress lifted the 55 MPH national limit that the Carter Administration Department of Transportation, speed limits on most highways and interstates are set by state DOTs. Is the 85 MPH speed limit on a Texas highway “arbitrary”? According to the Texas DOT website it was determined by road engineers — people who have actually studied highway engineering as a science — who evaluated the average speed of drivers along with the road geometry, prevailing road conditions, the traffic density and other factors to determine the speed limit. Is that arbitrary or is it instructional?

I don’t live in Texas with its flat, wide open spaces. I live in Alaska. Our roads are curvy, mountainous, and frost-heaved. Our pavement is frozen much of the year and moving the rest. Drifting snow, ice fog and short daylight hours reduce our visibility. Wildlife considers highways to be great game trails. The highest posted speed limit in Alaska is 65 MPH.

Is that arbitrary or instructional?

On a hot summer’s day on the Richardson Highway between Fairbanks and North Pole, I could easily drive 75, but the majority of the days in Alaska are winter. At 55 or even 65, I’m pretty sure I could stop in time to avoid a moose collision but at 75 …?????…. People hit moose all the time in that corridor and statistics show that if they’d been going the speed limit, the wreck might have been avoided or at least not been so bad.

Alaska has a large military population. They arrive usually in October, from Georgia and California and they are given no instruction in winter driving. They and their spouses take to our roads and drive in what they insist is a safe manner. In fact, they complain that Alaskan drivers are “horrible”, slow and cautious and we maintain too great a following distance. They express their displeasure by high-speed tailgating until there is an opening in traffic when they roar around us, risking a head-on with opposing traffic. If you get a chance to talk to them, they will insist WE are making them act that way.

Of course, they sing a different tune when one of our infamous Alaskan frost heaves shrugs them off into a ditch and we offer to pull them out. The smart ones are much more contrite than they were when they blew our doors off a mile back. The dumb ones … I leave in the ditch to contemplate their folly.

If all government went away tomorrow, there would still be a practical speed “limit” set by road engineering and conditions like weather and traffic density. And idiots would still exceed the “good sense” limit because idiots always think they’re smarter than those around them.

It’s obvious to them that the driver slowing them down on the road is a lousy driver … until that driver has to pull them out of the ditch.

Posted April 18, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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