I’ve always been a car enthusiast–moreso as a kid working on them and dreaming of having my own to work on and drive. I’ve owned a few cool ones. My "Ensignmobile" (first car upon obtaining my commission in the US Navy in 1984) was the new Pontiac Fiero. Silly, now, but in 1984, the idea of an $11,000 mid-engine sports car with 60 series, semi-low profile tires that could do better than .8 Gs on the skidpad (power on; come off the gas too quick, or–God forbid–brake in a high G turn, and you’ll oversteer quicker than you can say ‘Shit!’) was fantastic. I had one of the first–bright red–and people thought it was some Italian job.
Then I owned a 1986 Corvette. Those who know, understand that in 1984, the Corvette was redesigned from a simple over-power-to-weight ratio muscle car to a true sports car with handling and [especially] braking that was world class. That is, for a fraction of the money, you could respectably go head-to-head with many of the Italian and German makes. At that time, with its 50 series meats all-around, low weight, and anti-lock brakes, it had the shortest stopping distance of any production car in the world and could round the skidpad with the best of ’em.
When I moved to France in 1989, I took it with me. Being an hour away from St. Tropez (at Corvette speed), I frequented the place. Many a time I returned to my Vette to see people gathered ’round admiring it–ignoring the Porsches and Ferraris parked nearby.
When I returned to the US in 1992, I soon caught the SUV bug. My first was a Ford Explorer Sport (2 door). Then I owned two Jeep Grand Cherokees (Limited; both). I got a Hummer H2 a couple of years ago. I love it, but it’s big, really BIG–and HEAVY.
Last year, I made my wife get rid of her 1992 Toyota 4-Runner with about 250,000 miles on it. I "made her do it" by buying her an Infinity FX to replace it. In many ways, this is the coolest car I (we) have ever owned. The workmanship is breathtaking. Performance? Also breathtaking. It’s now our car of choice whenever we go on a road trip.
Put about a thousand miles on it this weekend. We went down south–the Riverside area. Then to San Diego, and back. Other than the traffic congestion at times, I’d say I averaged 85 mph most of the time. What I found remarkable on this trip is that that nearly everyone in late model cars was doing the same. I’d go 90+ when I could, and I was still being passed, with regularity.
This got me to thinking. Driving at that speed, in that car, with my skills (when I’m driving, I’m driving) seemed the most natural thing in the world. Here’s a car that can accelerate with tremendous gusto, take corners like you wouldn’t believe, and come to a complete stop–from 100 mph–far quicker than you can safeguard your Starbucks.
Have I told you about the active cruise control? Read up on it. It’s the closest thing to auto-pilot yet, for cars. It uses a laser to detect vehicles in front, calculating whether they are opening, closing, or maintaining. In essence, you set the speed (in specific mph), steer, and maintain vigilance. It does the rest–flawlessly. As you approach slower cars, it backs off the gas, then brakes, if needed–even to full stop. It will maintain a precise distance–slowing, accelerating, as needed. When the traffic speeds up or a lane opens and it’s clear, its off, back to its preset speed. It’s an auto pilot. Nothing more. Its purpose is to eliminate the fatigue of start, stop, slow, go, slow, etc.– which is analogous to maintaining a course and altitude in an airplane. You’re still driving/flying, but getting some help.
Anyway, at the speeds we were traveling, me and everyone else, I began to reflect on what’s going on. Here we have average people doing damn good jobs of controlling tons of steel racing down the highway with astounding amounts of potential energy buildup in them. The potential carnage is beyond imagination, and yet, we’re all engaged.
We stopped at our usual place yesterday afternoon for an early dinner. Upon departure, I was followed onto the ramp by a CA highway patrolman. Speed limit is 70. Not to be intimidated, I accelerated from ramp speed to 75 (indicated) as quickly as the car would allow. Short time later, the wannabe passes me. As I look over, he cups his hand over the dash so as to signal to me his "authority" in checking my speed. Asshole. At this point, I’m 800 miles of driving into this trip, and I’ve not seen a single patrolman. Everyone has been doing just fine, and now this needless intrusion.
It wasn’t long and he was cutting the grass in the median, endangering oncoming traffic in order to be a big man (with flshing lights–don’t forget the ‘necessary’ intimidation factor) catching someone enjoying a drive in the opposite direction.
My point is: as I see it, people who have equipment and competence to handle 90 mph are doing 90 mph, and those who don’t have such equipment and competence, or are just apprehensive, go slower. I curse them when they get in my way, but not seriously. I get it. They’re driving in their comfort zone–as it oughta’ be.
So, what’s the message, here? Cars aren’t what they used to be. Even a Toyota Camry has acceleration, handling, and braking performance that would have been unobtainable for nearly any amount of money 25 years ago. People aren’t generally stupid–much as I revel in the contrary. People are driving faster–far faster–because they have new and better equipment via the competitive marketplace. The equipment is enabling their inner ability.
And the cop? Well, I think we’d be fine without them, from what I’ve observed. Moreover, the logic of speeding tickets is tenuous, at best. The presumption is that people are more concerned about a $200 fine than they are their own lives, the well being of their loved ones (either in the car with them, or otherwise). and the well being of their fellow Earth inhabitants. Bullshit! People just fuck up, sometimes. In so doing, they sometimes kill themselves and/or others. It’s part of life, and fate. Economic incentives have nary a thing to do with it.
Just like the TSA, it serves only to provide the unthinking with a pacifier to suck on.