Cars have changed a lot over the past 50 years. Speed limits – and how people drive – haven’t.
Fifty years ago, most cars still had drum brakes in back – and marginal disc brakes up front. None had ABS. It took them longer to stop and – unless you knew how to brake – they would go into a skid if you braked them hard. There was no stability/traction control to mitigate the effects of a skid. And you were much more likely to skid, regardless, because most cars came with maybe 15 inch wheels (14s were common) and skinny-by-modern-standards 70-series tires with a much smaller contact patch than today’s 17, 18, 19 inch (and larger) wheels/tires offer.
Ergo, it was less safe to speed 50 years ago – in terms of braking distances, controllability and so on. For that matter, it was less “safe” – in terms of the latter factors – to drive the speed limit 50 years ago than it is to drive considerably faster today. The average modern car’s ability to stop in less distance, to be more controllable, its much superior traction and general stability make driving such a car at the speed limit – which, remember, hasn’t changed much if at all over the past half-century – the equivalent of going back in time 50 years and driving a car of that time 10 or even 20 MPH below the speed limits of that time.
And yet, that is exactly how many people in our time drive their modern cars: Ten or even 20 below the limit in cars that are safer, in terms of controllability, than the cars of 50 years ago were at the speed limit. It’s as silly – and as gratuitously wasteful – as using a six-burner Viking stove to melt a pat of butter.
One of the reasons why new cars are as expensive as they are is because they come standard with expensive equipment such as 17,18,19 (and larger) wheels shod with massive-footprint tires, often rated for sustained speeds of twice or more the maximum highway speed limit. And high-capacity four-wheel disc brakes, with ABS. Most cars used to have primitive (and so, inexpensive) suspension systems, often consisting of nothing more than a pair of leaf springs in the rear and a pair or coil springs in the front, with four really crappy (compared to modern) shock absorbers at all four corners. A few “performance” cars had a rear anti-sway bar. Most cars didn’t. None had “adaptive” or “adjustable” suspensions – as many new cars now have.
It’s all for-show, because few use this equipment to go. They mope along at – often just below – the speed limit, all that equipment as functionally useless as a non-working member under a bulging codpiece.
A few will sometimes use some of the equipment – the power of the engine – to thwart anyone who tries to pass them. But otherwise, it’s as wasted on them as a copy of Playboy in the hands of Lindsay Graham.
It is understandable that some people prefer to drive as if it were 1972 and nothing has changed in terms of how much better cars stop, handle and generally behave today vs. back then – because for 50 years, they’ve been told it’s not “safe” to drive any faster than the speed limit – irrespective of how much safer cars have become at speed. It’s the same conditioning that led to “masking” and – arguably – was the necessary predicate to “masking.” Instilled fear plus an ingrained reflex to obey results in the fearful, passive personality traits one encounters behind the wheel as well as behind the “mask.”
No amount of factual rebuttal will sway either to question their obedient passivity. Indeed, they question your questioning of it – and on the same basis. It’s not safe. Notwithstanding that it is – to throw the stupid “mask” in the trash and use the capability that you paid for.
Imagine how much faster – yes! – things would move if people took advantage of the capability engendered by the past 50 years of advancements in everything from brakes to tires to suspensions and electronics. Less time to get where you’re headed – and get there just as safely as it would have been 50 years go, taking longer. More irreplaceable time – to do other things besides passively meatsack along at a speed premised on the state of car development more than 50 years ago.
And if not – if it doesn’t feel safe – then why not spend less on equipment you’re not using? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to drive the speed limit in a car like they made them 50 years ago, without disc brakes and ABS and grippy tires and all the electronic safety nets? One not capable of safe operation at speeds of 100 MPH or more – as is true of almost any modern car? A car with just enough power to comfortably maintain . . . the speed limit?
A car like that could be built today for probably a lot less than the same type of car sold for 50 years ago.
We’d still be wasting time.
But at least we’d be saving some money.
. . .
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