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Monday, July 2, 2007

Whoah, Speed Racer

We’ve all seen the commercials with that sleek sedan careening around highways and street corners as though on rails. Sure, there’s a little disclaimer on the bottom of the screen: “Professional driver. Do not attempt.” Yeah, whatever. We’re being sold on the fact that the car goes fast, and we want that car. We want to be able to go fast. Zoom-zoom. I loved to drive fast, myself. However, it is important to note that there are consequences to driving fast that I think far outweigh the advantages. This was not an easy lesson for me to learn. I hope that I may make it easier for you.
First, let’s talk about safety. I could throw all kinds of statistics at you from the Safety Belt Commission, the Department of Transportation, and any number of other organizations that have devoted a great deal of time and energy to compiling data about the dangers of fast driving. The fact is, though, I don’t know that those statistics would carry any more weight with you than they ever did with me, which, sadly, wasn’t much. Frankly, I don’t want to overload you with a bunch of numbers at this point anyway. I will have enough numbers for you when I discuss the issue of time. Instead, I would like to appeal to your logic. Is it not safe to say that the driver of a fast-moving vehicle has less time to react to an obstacle in the road than the driver of a slower car? Is it also not safe to say that it takes a car traveling at sixty miles per hour longer to brake to a stop than a car traveling at thirty miles per hour? I would say that, given these two facts alone, there is little room to argue that a speeding driver is in a far more precarious position to himself and others on the road than a driver who is observing the speed limit.
Another fact about speeding that should be more of a deterrent than it actually is, of course, is that fact that it is illegal. One might argue that speed limits ought not be required, but, if your logic could find no flaw in the above paragraph, then you must acknowledge that at least some limitations should be placed on vehicle speed, if not for the safety of the driver herself, at least for the safety of the others on or near the roads.
Does everyone who breaks the speed limit get caught? No, of course not. I violated speed limits for over a decade before I had to deal with the sickening sight of those red and blue flashing lights, and a mustachioed face poking in my driver side window with the question, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Why was I speeding that particular time? I was running a few minutes late for work. As a result of trying to make up those few minutes, I got a pretty substantial fine, my insurance premiums took a mighty jump, and I was late to work that day by much more than a few minutes. While I had managed to elude the consequences of my lead-footed driving for many years, when they caught up with me, they caught up with me in a big way. I remember, too, having the arrogance to think that one ticket every fourteen years wasn’t really such a bad average. That was until I got a second ticket three months later. I’ll admit that the legal argument for slowing down is not quite as compelling as the safety argument. At least, it isn’t so until you actually get caught. However, the consequences at that point are significant.
I guess the question really is, “why do we drive fast?” There are a few out there, myself once included, who choose to drive fast simply because it is more enjoyable. We’re sitting on all of that horsepower, why not use it, right? Well, I’ll answer those speed demons in a moment. Most people, however, break the speed limit because they simply want to get where they are going faster. The question, though, is just how much faster are we getting there?
This is the part where I’m going to bring in the numbers. If you enjoy crunching numbers, please feel free to check my figures. If you are math-phobic, however, then just trust their accuracy based on the fact that I really had hoped that they would have turned out differently myself.
First, let’s break miles per hour down into miles per minute. Few of us in our daily commuting and errand-running actually drive for hours without having to stop for lights and such things.
Thirty-five miles per hour, a city standard, works out to about 0.58 miles per minute. Essentially, if you drive for one mile without stopping, it will take you about one minute and forty-three seconds. Traveling at forty-five miles per hour, that same mile will take you roughly a minute and twenty seconds. Traveling ten miles over the speed limit saves you 23 seconds per mile, provided that you don’t encounter any stop signs, crossing guards, red lights, or slower drivers. So, barring any obstacles, you can save yourself almost a full four minutes on a ten-mile drive to work, and all it may cost you is an accelerated heart rate and a slight spike in your blood pressure. Oh, right, that, and the endangerment of your own life and all of the other drivers, passengers, cyclists, pedestrians, and wildlife that you encountered on your trip. Well, golly, that’s such a small price to pay when you consider the terribly inconvenient alternative of leaving five minutes earlier. Sheesh!
Even on a hundred-mile road trip, the difference between traveling sixty-five miles per hour and eighty-five miles per hour amounts to about twenty-two minutes, and that’s only provided that you don’t encounter any slower-moving traffic along the way. How often does that happen? The fact is that the minutes that you could save by speeding don’t amount to very much at all, especially when compared to the lives you can save just by slowing down a little.
Now, for my fellow adrenaline junkies who, to quote Tom Cruise’s Maverick in Top Gun, “have the need. The need for speed!” I have to point out a sobering fact. When we take into account all of the aforementioned factors, we can come to only one conclusion. We are being selfish. This is not simply the “I’m-going-to-play-my-car-stereo-so-loud-that-I-shake-everyone-else’s windows-at-the-stoplight” kind of egocentric selfishness. This is dangerous selfishness. There are other ways to get that adrenaline kick that don’t endanger by-standers.
Still, all of the statistics in the world might not be enough to deter you. Speeding fines could be doubled or even tripled and you might not be dissuaded from your fast-moving ways. The mathematical reality of the futility of speedy driving may have little impact upon you. None of these things much affected me, either. Then about a year ago, I met a beautiful young actress and dancer named Regan who charmed me thoroughly, and whom I now consider a friend. Five years ago, Regan was sitting in the back seat of a car stopped on an L.A. Freeway due to traffic and weather issues. Her car was hit from behind by a driver who was driving too fast to stop in time. Regan now spends her days in a wheelchair. She is one of the strongest, happiest, sexiest, talented, and most enchanting people I have ever met, but she has not walked, run or tap-danced in five years because one driver was too selfish and self-important to drive with the necessary care or diligence. What might my speeding have cost someone else some day? What might yours?
So now I drive a little slower. I listen to the radio and even sometimes sing along. I stick to the right lane, and let those who insist upon driving fast go right on around me and on ahead. (I usually wind up beside them at the next stoplight. I smile at them. They hate that.) I find that it usually doesn’t take me much (or sometimes any) longer to get where I’m going. I leave early when I can, and when I can’t (or don’t), and I find myself running late, then I accept that I am late, and I deal with the consequences of that tardiness. I find that those consequences are far less severe than any of the potential consequences of speeding. I find that I enjoy driving a lot more now than I did before.
Whatever your reasons are for breaking the speed limit, let me encourage you to question them now. Whether you’re trying to beat the clock, beat the system, or just trying to beat that anonymous guy in the Dodge Viper to the next stoplight, take a moment at that stoplight and think about all of the reasons I’ve listed above. Then take another second to think about the beautiful dancer in the wheelchair. Is it really worth it?
Is it?

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