By Eric Peters
Almost every new car I test drive – even the humblest hybrid – has a speedometer that reads to at least 120 mph.
140 is common; 160 not unusual. Some cars have speedometers that read to 180 or even 200 MPH
And some of those are capable of pegging them.
Few ever do.
It would be interesting to know how many cars are ever driven faster than 100 MPH. And also how many ever see 130 – even briefly. My bet is maybe one out of ten and then only for a brief moment of furtive lawlessness.
Not the speed, per se. In a modern car, 100 MPH is safer than 70 was in a 1960s-era car. Whether the measure is braking distances, lateral grip, susceptibility to loss of control or any other such. Many current year cars will brake – and come to a complete, perfectly controlled stop – entirely on their own, without the person behind the wheel needing to so much as scream . . . if the mighty bright sensors and computer Oz which control the thing detect an emergency.
But speed laws have remained static. It’s analogous to carrying around a brick phone just because.
And being punished if you’re caught with a modern sail fawn.
Violating archaic speed laws is what’s dangerous.
To drive even 100 MPH in most states is to risk a felony stop at gunpoint and the sure certainty of a “reckless driving” ticket that will take an expensive lawyer to plead down to something that merely involves handing over large sums of money, as opposed to your driving “privileges” (as the government styles what used to be our right to travel) and, very possibility, your liberty. In most states, a “reckless driving” conviction carries with it the possibility of time in Hotel Graybar. Though that is usually deferred or otherwise held in abeyance, it remains a serious threat nonetheless.
Regardless, the best case is you will be made to pay a very large sum of money – both to the government and its sister operation, the insurance mafia. A “reckless driving” conviction on your driver’s record – which the mafia has ready access to, notwithstanding it being your (phlegmy cough) private information. The government and the insurance mafia are like a WWF tag team – with you as the object of their suplexes and camel clutches.
Even an ordinary “speeding” ticket – 78 in a 70, for instance – will cost you at least $100-something bucks up front plus whatever the mafia decides to surcharge you. Get two or three such and it gets into money.
This accounts for the slowness of very fast modern cars. It’s not their fault. They are like a champion race horse ridden by a beaten jockey. If he doesn’t kick the horse in the ribs, the horse will probably just stand there.
You know, the way most modern cars do when the light goes green.
The way they “accelerate” – once their driver finally notices the light has gone green – at the pace of an advancing glacier. They way they glut up into bunches – I call them Clover Clusters – with no car going faster than any of the others and all of them going slow.
It’s not even so much the None Shall Pass phenomenon of the deliberately obstructive Clover. It’s that none of them even consider the idea of passing.
Like our jockey, they are beaten.
Given the consequences, this is perfectly understandable.
Enforcement of speed statutes has become outright vicious. The government isn’t much interested in the Wall Street flim-flam artists who crater whole economies for their personal enrichment and is almost casual in its treatment of rapists, thieves and murderers – probably because they are not paying customers (and it’s worth noting that “customer” is their term for us).
But god help the “speeder.”
So, defeat – and passivity – have settled in. And this has occurred as cars have become ever-more-powerful, ever-more-capable of routine operation at speeds that would have been unsafe – perhaps even “reckless” – forty or fifty years ago.
So, these 160 mph speedos are a form of car porno. It gets us excited, but there’s no real outlet. Ultimately, it’s a kind of self-abuse. Automotive onanism.
What’s the point?
You might remember when cars had speedometers that read no higher than 85 MPH. In the late ’70s, Congress thought people might be less tempted to drive faster if the speedometer didn’t tempt them to do so. I had all kinds of fun twisting the speedo in my 1980 Camaro all the way back around to 5 or 10 mph – which was about 115 or so.
But back then, they didn’t draw down on you for such things. The Cult of Officer Safety was as yet a backwater eddy. The insurance mafia wasn’t as strong; you could still get away with not having insurance – there was no SCMODS (State, County, Municipal Offender Data System) in most cop cars and no such things as plate readers. The government didn’t give the mafia ready access, anytime it liked, to your DMV records.
Back then, it was much harder, in terms of the machinery available, to hit 160. But a lot easier to “get away” with it, if you managed to get hold of the machinery that could.
Today, probably a third of the cars on the road can get there – or get close to there.
But it’s a lot more dangerous to go there.
Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at ericpetersautos.com.
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