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Driving

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.

Asshole. Fucker!

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.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

9 Comments

  1. Kyle Bennett on June 28, 2005 at 23:42

    In my very extensive driving expeience (more, at the age of 40, than most people would do in two lifetimes, under every imaginable condition of weather, traffic, geography, external and internal distraction, and time pressure) the greatest danger I have seen is from people who are either inexperienced, indecisive, or not fully aware of their surroundings (which category includes drunks). While the instances of death and destruction from sober recklessness and excessive speed are spectacular, they account for a small percentage of the dangerous situations I have encountered, and I beleive of actual injury accidents.

    The most dangerous situations I have encountered have been from somebody changing their mind at the last minute, and from people trying to get around a slow-moving vehicle (usually a truck moving 10-20 mph slower than the prevailing traffic either due to weight or because of a mandated lower speed.) Interstingly, the situation that I have seen leading to the greatest likelihood of collision is failing to _take_ the right of way – though this is usually at low speed, such as a four way stop, and not likely to cause injury.

    My only two at-fault multi-car accidents (both very minor fender-benders) were in my first months of driving, clearly due to inexperience on my part. My worst accident was in heavy city traffic caused by a tired executive failing to see me oncoming when he made a left turn. The closest I came to dying was when a semi-trailer was left abandoned on a curve on a lonely dark interstate in the middle of nowhere, with no lights or flares. I was alerted to it by a car about a quarter mile ahead flashing his lights. I slowed down and got very alert, not knowing what it was for, and even then I saw the truck almost too late to avoid going right under it and leaving my upper torso on the highway behind the car.

    Never have I been put in danger directly by a speeder.

  2. A College Student on June 28, 2005 at 21:13

    I can't help but think of the trip on I-35 from Dallas/Austin and back. It's about a 4 hour stretch, given traffic and construction. Each time I made the trip, I would run into traffic doing exactly the speed limit about 2-4 times (at all other times, traffic is flowing quick and smooth). When this happened, I would peer around the front pillar to see the cars ahead. Sure enough, a marked or unmarked patrol car would be sitting in the left lane, with traffic packed tight behind him.

    As soon as a sacrificial lamb would try to pass him, the lights would come up, the poor guy would be pulled over, and traffic would suddenly be back to 80 or so–smooth and spread out. Nothing pisses me off more than a cop sitting in the left lane doing exactly the limit. At least when some dingbat decides to go slow in the fast lane you can pass him without wasting time getting pulled over and being robbed at gunpoint.

  3. Walter E. Wallis on June 29, 2005 at 11:19

    Perhaps cars with that equipment should have special privileges on the road. I can see requiring such equipment to drive in fog some day. Have fun. Active cruise control. Mama, I want it!

  4. Richard Nikoley on June 30, 2005 at 04:00

    It was an '86 I owned, but basicaly the same as the '85. I don't keep up with it that much, anymore, but I've heard nothing but good about the late model Vettes.

  5. Doug_S on June 29, 2005 at 21:33

    If you thought the 85 vette was a good sports car, what do you think of the 2005? I am seriously thinking of buying one and I could do the Viper or the Prsche or the others in the class if not price range.

  6. Doug_S on June 30, 2005 at 19:37

    when I learned that engineers given their leeway would set the speed limit for a road by clocking ordinary drivers and finding the 80th percentile (the speed at which only 20 percent of drivers drove the road faster) it was one of those eye opening moments. Ordinary people, not some expert would set the prudent speed, if speed limits were required. Same type of recognition when I studied common law and realized under it policemen were not some sort of super authority people, but people with the exact same authority of ordinary citizens hired to so some of the more difficult jobs like confront drunks and violent people.

  7. Richard Nikoley on July 30, 2005 at 13:55

    Non-Sequitur.

    There is no real evidence that "traffic safety programs," funded primarily be people who drive safely and responsibly without such programs, inicedently, do much if anything to curb fatalities.

    Let's just face the fact that 4,000 pouns of metal hurling along at 70 mph is just plain a dangerous undertaking. Sure, there are ways to make them safer, and to _effectively_ do so would require cars that cost more by several magnitudes, not to mention the extra time and hassle required to observe all the "perfectly safe" procedures. Most people are prepared to trade away some margin of safety in exchange for low-cost vehicles and savings in time.

    "trafic safety programs" are nothing more than another excuse to rob the public in order to bolster the fake self-esteem of bureaubots who've fooled themselves into believeing that they're worth a shit.

    They really aren't.

  8. Arne Bjermeland on July 30, 2005 at 09:49

    You ought to have a look at
    where it is stated i.a.:
    United States – The death toll on our highways makes driving the number one cause of death and injury for young people ages 5 to 27. Highway crashes cause 94 percent of all transportation fatalities and 99 percent of all transportation injuries, yet traffic safety programs receive only one percent of the funding of the U.S. DOT budget. The staggering loss of life and the incidence of life-threatening injuries occurring each year is best described as a public health crisis. According to a WHO report, "The Injury Pyramid," for every motor vehicle injury resulting in death in the US, 13 people sustain injuries severe enough to require hospitalization.

  9. Skarr on August 1, 2005 at 07:04

    Talking about cars, the speediest ride I've ever had was with a friend in San Diego who owns a 1967 Shelby Cobra and the G force in that thing is just amazing. I remember going down the freeway towards Coronado one morning and we passed other cars (driving pretty fast themselves) as if they were standing still. I was thinking we might get pulled over by a cop but no, everyone seemed to be admiring the car rather than commenting on its speed. After all, it is a race car and is EXPECTED to go fast.

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