Going No Faster – in Cars That Can, Safely . . .

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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.

So why waste it?

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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24 COMMENTS

  1. In Norway 62% of new cars sold now are EV’s

    One reason for that is a $23,000 government rebate for EV buyers

    The EV is a 3rd or 4th car, these EV buyers have one or more ice vehicles which they use for 80% of their driving.

    Norway’s consumption of gas is flat for the last 20 years….the purchase of these EV’s did not reduce gas consumption, because most of the driving there is done in ice powered vehicles.

  2. ‘Cars have changed a lot over the past 50 years.’ — eric

    Eric has written many times about the ongoing replacement of V8s and V6s by tiny turbocharged I4s — all in the name of the cliiiiiiimate.

    Now our euroclown cousins across the water have advanced to the vanguard of the eco-lemming pack:

    ‘The Ford Puma Vivid Ruby Edition special edition crossover is equipped with a turbocharged Ford 1.0L I-3 EcoBoost mild-hybrid powertrain, which can be had in 125 PS (123 horsepower) or 155 PS (153 horsepower) outputs.’

    https://fordauthority.com/2022/12/ford-puma-vivid-ruby-edition-debuts-with-black-painted-roof/

    This tiny I-3 is essentially a motorcycle engine, but pulling 2,800 lbs of four-wheeled bulk instead of 600 lbs on two wheels.

    ME NO LIKE.

    • Hi Jim,

      My ’76 Kawasaki 900’s engine is bigger (punched out to 1100 cc) and makes more power. It also gets 40 miles to the gallon… because the bike only weighs around 600 pounds.

  3. We’ve got “progress” coming to my area the past few years. One of the roads coming into town, which has been 45 as long as I’ve lived here (over a decade) has been cut to 35. It’s tough to intentionally drive too slow for a road, but I do it. A friend just got a ticket here the other week.
    I think “careful what you wish for” applies to these slow drivers. I honestly don’t think they’re capable of higher speeds. Early onset dementia, maybe. The capabilities of the cars have increased, but decreased for the people driving them. See the traffic accident compilations in Russia for an example of demented drivers exceeding their own capabilities: https://www.bitchute.com/video/SylFkUKS7zql/

    • Hi Max,

      You’re right, of course. While the capability/controllability of cars has massively improved, the skill of the average driver has plummeted. I blame the ubiquity of the automatic transmission, “safety assistance technology” and a campaign of dumbing-down and passivity-training for this.

  4. it’s as wasted on them as a copy of Playboy in the hands of Lindsay Graham-EP

    I hope the new forum will have like buttons cause this line should receive lots!

  5. Ralph Nader wrote “Unsafe at any Speed” in 1965, a book that started the automakers and law enforcement down the path to “Unfun at every speed”. Cars have improved in performance, but who wants to push the limits of those improvements when you can get heavy fines or even jail time for the effort. Many people would now rather sit back eating a double meat whopper, supersized fries, a 36 oz. sugary drink, watch a movie on the console TV and talk on the phone with greasy fingers in a driverless car. Passengering has become more fun than driving.

    Welcome to meatsack land, enjoy the ride.

  6. The performance of the average car over the last 15 years would be classified as extremely high performance 50 years ago. Including the tires. I was there. I know.
    America’s new and improved favorite pass time, hand wringing. As if we could avoid the fact that life is a terminal disease, if we’re careful enough.
    Eric’s assertion that the “speed limits” are in parallel with masking is spot on. It’s an assertion of authority to keep you in line with authority. If you color outside the lines, you might be forced into a confrontation with goons with guns with a license to kill.
    The last time I was stopped for speeding, the AGW asked me if I knew the speed limit, to which I replied, “of course. it’s the same everywhere, 186,000 miles per second, the speed of light”. A chuckle and a warning. Forced him to think for a few seconds, and possibly realize the absurdity of what he was doing, for at least a few seconds.

  7. ‘it was less safe to speed 50 years ago – in terms of braking distances, controllability and so on.’ — eric

    That’s for sure. My fast 1968 GTO had 9.5-inch drum brakes on all four corners, which couldn’t handle even one 100-mph stop without uselessly locking up and putting the car into an uncontrolled skid.

    These days, human error probably causes more accidents than vehicle limitations. Last weekend I saw two nasty accidents, just after they happened. In one, on 1-10 east of El Paso, a semi truck had sheared off the whole left rear quarter of a sedan, probably after it lane-changed in front of the truck. The semi rig skidded around backward, then flipped onto its roof.

    In the second one, just downhill from Alpine, Arizona, someone pulled out of a side road into the path of a northbound vehicle, and got T-boned. A person was lying in the grass beside the highway next to a smashed-up car, with three EMS personnel administering first aid.

    It’s sobering to witness such dire crack-ups. One empathizes with the pain of the injured; feels elated to have escaped a similar fate; yet wonders what fate has in store for ourselves.

    There’s plenty of careless and plenty of plain crazy out there.

  8. I was only 7 years old in ’72. I got my driver’s permit in ’81. I had actually done a bit of driving before it was legal for me to do so — sometimes with parental attendance & approval, sometimes not! 😁

    When I was a teenager, I spent countless hours on BMX bikes, dirt bikes, trail bikes and ATCs (3 wheel) — taking jumps that would land me in the hospital these days.

    Also, a rich friend of mine (son the of not-so-famous Mr Gasket) had these Rupp “mini cars” that we spend hours upon hours riding. They had a fiberglass body over a go-cart frame with a Briggs & Staton engine.

    By the time I even had the permit, I was very experienced about how to handle various vehicles pushed to the limit. When I was a sophomore in high school, my mother gave me her old Datsun 510 wagon (my first wagon!) and my friend and I immediately put Cragar SST rims with huge tires and had to install a lift kit! My mother hated it instantly as well but allowed it until they gave the car to my stepdad’s daughter two years later.

    I can’t say strongly enough about how I fucken hate being stuck behind the herd of brain-deads in the DMV (DC, MD, VA) area. If you would estimate average intelligence based upon observed driving skills, I would say “dumb as shit” on average.

    There are a couple/few exceptions. I-83 just north of Baltimore heading into PA. Every lead foot wants to go at least 80 mph. Fine with me. But I noticed that there are two kinds of drivers in PA, perpetually slow/brain-dead or must go 20+ mph over any speed limit.

    The only annoying part in PA is, if I’m on an unfamiliar single-lane back road and I’m doing the speed limit +5 mph (as usual), either go the fuck around me or get off my ass!

    Anyway, it’s close to miraculous that I haven’t got any tickets for more than 15 years now. I think my “Jedi” driving skills have developed well over the years.

  9. Oh drivers where I live definitely take advantage of their cars capabilities to speed. On the highway. The old people who live in the retirement community near us putt along on the surface streets but folks now routinely drive over 80 on the highways and freeways here, traffic permitting. We were driving one of our old suvs the other day a Chevy Tahoe going 77 and laughing at how every single vehicle on the freeway way easily passing us. I love it. I love fast drivers!

  10. I dunno about all this. On some interstate roads, the pace is okay. When I drive the interstates, typically I’m doing 80, and a small number of people pass me. Yes, the occasional guy going 65 (or less) in a posted 70, with most people going 75ish. What grinds my gears is when there is the slightest bit of inclement weather going on, and the same road is going 45! ‘Cmon, it’s just a little rain, people!

    THE worst is two-lane roads with some hills sprinkled in during the snow. People go too damn slow down the hill, then get stuck while being on the gas to get *up* the next hill! Go a little faster *down* the first hill, so you can get *up* the 2nd hill w/o getting on the gas! The concept of momentum is nowhere to be found….

    • Years ago, this area had a spat of freezing rain one Saturday afternoon, in the middle of February. It was awful! A 40-minute drive took two hours. I will take -40 below any day over that. I got stuck behind five cars going 35 mph, just as we were getting ready to drive up a steep hill (one lane, each way). I knew there was no way in hell I would make it up the hill driving that damned slow. So, white-knuckling it, I passed all five cars on that icy hill, going too damned fast for the road conditions, praying to God that no vehicle would suddenly appear in the other lane (at the top of the hill). Thankfully, I made it past the row of slow pokes, but Lord….I think I gained a few grey hairs after that trip.

  11. The turtle on the road doesn’t stand a chance vs. a car. I wonder, how many turtles get smushed per year in the USA? It must be in the hundreds of thousands.

    “The numbers are staggering. In 1993, a study completed by 25 schools through New England found 1,923 animal deaths, and the data was then extrapolated by the Animal People Newspaper to reveal the following annual number of kills on the 4.1 million miles of roadways in the United States : 41 million squirrels, 26 million cats, 22 million rats, 19 million opossums, 15 million raccoons, six million dogs, and 350,000 deer. However, there is no clear data on the precise number of animals that are victims of vehicles each year. ”

    Sending monies to the Ukraine shit hole is a waste, just imagine if we had spent the money here to build wildlife corridors – to amend the damage we do to the poor wildlife, which out of sync with our modern world.

    I promoted such an idea on my blogs, until the censors decided I said something (((THEY))) didn’t like, and took all of my essays down for (((WRONGTHINK))). How dare I think a thought the woke righteous Leftist does not approve.

    Here in Oregon, the “beaver state”, the slow methodical lumbering beaver with the speed of a sloth is as good as dead if it wanders onto a black paved road at night when it is raining. It is practically invisible. The road going into Corvallis, Oregon from the I-5 is the beaver corridor of death. I would drive that daily in the winter and observed dead beavers one after another. What happens is with the winter rains the creeks flood the fields and there’s water on each side of the road – and the dumb beaver tries to get to the other side.

    So a wildlife corridor for beavers I think is a good idea, water tunnels are built under the road, and the road is fenced off from beaver crossing. During the dry months the raccoons and foxes can traverse under the road. No doubt if you made these corridors of sufficient height and width then homeless humans could use them for shelter.

    Speaking of concrete culverts, if you put them where homeless habituate they could find shelter from cold winter rains. I do not understand why these humongous cities, with all their resources couldn’t put culvert shelters up for people.

  12. My wife and I were in her Toyota SUV on a newly built four-lane road in a small city about 4 hours from home without any traffic that had a ridiculous speed limit of 35 MPH. I was driving safely and a cop nearly wipes out his Tahoe turning around to come pull us over. The muscle-bound, tatted up cop in his Tactical gear says “Do you know how fast you were going?” and proceeded to lecture me about safety and all that jazz, all the while having his hand on his firearm like a middle-aged engineer is going to do something rash about getting a $150 ticket. I nodded along, signed the damned thing and paid it in person at city hall so I could unload on the bureaucrat taking the payment.

    That road could easily handle 45 mph or even 55 mph, but don’t tell that to this city that sees that road as a revenue collection device. Guess it didn’t help we had plates from outside the county and the cop knew we wouldn’t fight it in court.

    It’s sickening. It’s also sickening when you’re on a six-lane highway and clovers herd together like cattle and you have to drive, ahem, creatively to get around the rolling chicane they create as they do the limit or worse, 5 or 10 below.

    • Re: dr_mantis_toboggan_md November 30, 2022 At 3:45 pm

      That’s a standard revenue trap. Take a crappy potholed two lane road with a 45mph speed limit rebuild it as a nice smooth four lane road and put a 30-35mph speed limit on it.

      Government intentionally creates fast roads with low speed limits to generate revenue and traffic stops in general.

  13. Where I live, there’s a four lane each way highway with a speed limit of 45. The few times I’m on it, I never exceed the speed limit. I just assume that the lightly travelled, wide road is crawling with cops.

  14. We get both here, summer lane squatters that won’t break the limit in an excruciating slow pass of a right lane car or truck. Then winter, Snoqualmie Pass I90 closed not due to snow but the multiple spin outs/crashes/roll overs, “I’ve got traction control I can go 70 in a raging snow storm!”. Hours of closure while the State Patrol sorts it all out.

    You can’t drive 55 on a road designed in the ‘40s, that used to have a 60 limit deemed safe for cars of the ‘40s / ‘50s with their chuck wagon suspension, drum brakes, and non belted bias ply tires? Get the he** off the highway!

    Out West fun freeway travel is areas of Idaho and Utah with the 80 limit, you can really make good time!

  15. Under-posted speed limits has to be one of the most aggravating parts of driving today because there are so many of them. There are so many roads in my area with 35 mph limits (including highways!!) that could be and should be 65!!!! Yes double!!!

    Add the under-posted limit with a driver in the left lane going well below that speed limit……..

    • Yeah Richb, Im sure that’s a feature, not a bug. Make the speed limit so low that frustrated drivers can speed up right into the revenue traps set up for them.

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