55 MPH: Hated in 1973, why would it be embraced now?

I beg your indulgence while I wax geezerish for a moment: In 1973, when the oil crisis hit, the nation responded by paying irrational prices for higher-mileage cars, took up riding bicycles and scooters, and increased car pooling. The government's contribution: the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, imposing a 55 mile per hour speed limit. The minute gas came back down, the small cars were traded for behemoths, bicycles and scooters were garaged, and we returned to solitary commuting.

Sen. John Warner of Virginia has done his bit to flash back to the 70's by floating a trail ballon trial balloon about a return to the 55 mph speed limit. Perhaps he has forgotten how roundly loathed this speed limit was, and how poorly obeyed. The result was more of what I contend is the most dangerous highway situation, widely disparate speeds. Law-obeying citizens grew used to cars riding their bumpers. The nation spoke very clearly about its distaste for lower speed limits, the reason that many states returned to high limits as soon as they could.

While the lower limit may save gasoline, it comes at the cost of driver's time, too, and for each of us the duration of our life is the most important limited resource. At one time, I worked 28 miles from my home, a round trip of about 56 minutes. Under a 55 mph law, that same commute would take five minutes longer, 25 minutes a week, almost 21 hours a year. How much is my time worth?

Before Sen. Warner and his cohorts pass this bill, I'd like to see them drive from Minneapolis, MN to Billings, Montana at 55 mph. That drive, at that speed, would be an excellent lesson on the concept of infinity.


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