Let’s get physical

I am not a “math person.” I often joke that I do math well enough to know I bought a really expensive calculator. Despite my complete distaste for the subject some things have stuck with me, mainly the whole sub-subject of geometry. Some physics in their simplest forms still stick in my mind.

Perry Steidley taught two generations of my family force equals mass times acceleration. Sir Isaac Newton said something about a body in motion.

In my words the bigger you are and the faster you are moving the bigger the “ouch” when you run into something like a wall.

In 1974 congress passed and the president signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. The name alone may not remind you of anything, but the slogan promoting compliance with the new law probably will; Stay Alive at 55. Ring a bell? The law was meant to lower oil consumption by attaching federal highway money given to states to compliance with a new, lower, speed limit. Energy conservation may have been the purpose, but the selling point to the public was safety.

In the 30 years since the drop to 55 miles per hour cars have become more efficient and safety systems in vehicles are more advanced so maybe the whole point is moot. However I think safety equipment can only go so far. At some point there is too much mass going far too fast creating vastly too much force for nylon seat belts and explosive airbags to repel.

On Tuesday, Feb. 4, Idaho Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis of Idaho Falls introduced a bill that would move some of the state’s freeways to a speed limit of 80 miles per hour.

This is a horrible idea. The time savings are minimal compared to the current 75 mile per hour speed limit. So what is the purpose?

“Come on man, everyone is doing it.”

Utah went up to 80 miles per hour. According to most estimates the number of vehicle wrecks in Utah did not significantly increase, so why not go faster?

The obvious reason we should not raise the speed limit to 80 is, a speed limit increase to 80 miles per hour will result in people driving 85 miles an hour. In short; WE ARE ALREADY GOING 80! Unless of course you are like me and own a vehicle that can’t go that fast.

The majority of American drivers believe the myth that you cannot be ticketed for speeding if you are less than five miles per hour over the speed limit. The most pervasive logic behind this belief is police cannot certify, under oath, to a court, their specific radar gun is calibrated precisely enough to be that accurate. I suspect it has more to do with argumentation skills and time management. Does the officer want to waste their day off sitting in court to lose to a “flow of traffic” argument? Probably not. The truth still remains you can be ticketed for as little as one mile per hour over the posted limit.

Raising the speed limit to 80 miles per hour is just licensing the average motorist to drive 85 miles per hour. The real reason there is no significant change in the data is that most drivers in Utah are already going 80.

There is another piece of missing data. How big is the “ouch” when a car going 80 hits a wall versus a car traveling at 75? Statistically, crashes are more survivable the slower you are going (this is the acceleration part of the equation) so slower is better, right? Not if you really have to get somewhere. The laws of physics still apply. The “ouch” doesn’t get smaller because you really, really want to go somewhere.

Is there anything in Idaho that is so worth getting to that two to three extra minutes is an acceptable trade for the risk? I love Idaho dearly. I moved out of the state for 12 years and was homesick at least once a day, every day for 12 years. I still haven’t found something here worth the extra risk.

Here is a novel idea. Everyone that supports this bill should have to ride a motorcycle on a busy freeway. I am not saying motorcycle riding is bad. I am saying it is educational. The perspective a person gains by traveling at great speeds with even less protection than a car realizes one truth about freeway travel. We are going much faster than we ought to.

I agree with Sammy Hagar, I can’t drive 55, but 65 is comfortable, and it also happens to be the average speed at which most personal vehicles have the highest fuel efficiency.

Thanks for reading!

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