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Lori Beth Crawford



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The other day, I ran across an article on the Wall Street Journal’s website called The Insanity of Drive-55 Laws where I learned that Senator John Warner of Virginia has suggested a return to the federal 55 mph speed limit law that was initiated during the OPEC oil crisis in 1974. As someone who has recently learned firsthand that slowing down on the freeway does indeed save gas, I was ready to dismiss Mr. Stephen Moore’s OpEd piece out of hand. However, I decided to keep an open mind and gave him a shot to convince me. And he did just that.

“Calls for a 55 mph speed limit -- and for that matter most other government energy conservation plans, such as urging people to ride a bus or a bicycle rather than driving a car -- reflect a mindset that oil and gasoline are more valuable than human time.”

Considering that time is the one commodity that we can never replace, it really makes me stop to wonder why we’re always so eager to squander it in favor of other replaceable resources like money. There’s a reason statements like, “Another day, another dollar,” have become a cliché in American culture. As long as we have another day, we can get another dollar. On the flip side, you can have a gazillion dollars, but when your days are up, those dollars can’t do a thing for you.

Now that you know where I’m coming from, I sure you can understand why I now wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Moore that a return to a national 55 mph speed limit is really quite ludicrous. To be fair, I can also see why slowing down seems perfectly reasonable to Senator Warner. He’s already lived through the law once before so it’s not a major change for him. He’s also pretty old. His time is almost up anyway. He’s nearly completed what he was put on earth to do.

This doesn’t hold true for the twenties and thirties crowd.

We’re coming into our own in a fast paced society where you keep up or get left behind. We have a gazillion more things we need to accomplish in one day than Senator Warner had to do in six months when he was our age.  We’re just getting started in our careers and our families. We need time to do both. Driving slower on already crowded highways is counterproductive to both of these goals.

While reading up on Senator’s Warner’s proposal, I came across quite a few comments from Jane and John Citizen supporting his idea and condemning America’s apparent inability to sacrifice creature comforts for the greater good. Compared to many other nations we are pretty fortunate as a whole. However, we all sacrifice something with every decision we make because it is impossible to have everything. Just ask anyone who’s ever bought a house two hours away from her job so her kids can benefit from a better school district. Lowering the speed limit to save money only robs people in like situations of what little time they have left to spend with their kid.

Then there were those who touted the safety aspect of a lower speed limit. They loved citing the stats that accidents decreased when the limit was implemented in ’74. However, too many factors are involved to read causation into the numbers instead of mere correlation. As another article pointed out, the number of accidents has already decreased in 2008. Clearly the decrease has to be attributed to something besides a lower speed limit since it is not yet in effect. Perhaps it’s as simple as people are driving less to save on gas. This is a condition that was also true in 1974 when there was no gas to buy at any price much less a high one.

Also along the safety lines, a study from the UK concluded that drivers are six times more likely to be in an accident when increased speed is a factor. Well, I’d just like to point out that in 100% of those instances, something moving at a slower speed was also involved. Do we really want to increase the number of these slower moving factors on our highways and boost our chances of ending someone’s time prematurely?

Admittedly, I’m still not completely opposed to driving 55 mph to save gas. I just want the option to go faster if I need to. However, this could all be mitigated if the government were to raise speed limits on surface streets to 55 mph as well. What a good portion of the folks who support the slower speed don’t seem to get is that 55 is the most efficient speed period. Driving slower than that diminishes your gas mileage just as much as driving faster. It’s all about balance. If I were to get some of the time lost on highways back from the surface streets, perhaps I could see how supporting this proposal makes sense.

As Mr. Moore pointed out, the mindset that human time is less valuable than oil and gasoline is a backward way of thinking. Perhaps we’re all overdue for a reevaluation of our priorities. As we come to the ends of our lives, which do we really expect to regret more – that we should’ve spent more time with our families and friends or that we should’ve saved more gasoline?

The Return of the Drive 55 Law