Friday, September 12, 2008

You Always Catch Them at the Next Light

A recent verbal tussle over driving and speed reached its zenith when the fella started to say, "I hate guys..." but stopped because "...guys like that" included me. I verbalised his thought for him.

"You hate guys like us. That's okay. We hate guys like you." In the distance someone laughed.

I should clarify. I didn't know this guy, yet he jumped into a personal conversation and changed its direction. Yes, he was trying to be friendly, but his motives were suspect. If he had stayed sharp, he would have left it alone. Leap without looking, and the pool might have been drained last night. Over an hour later and before he left, he found me again. Pointing the index finger of authority, he said, "Drive Slowly. Enjoy the scenery."

Along certain highways there are signs stating fines for speeding. At the top of these signs it says:

Speed Kills. Slow Down and Live.

Everyone repeat after me, "Of course you have to disagree, J."

That's damn straight.

Yes, speed is involved in deaths every year, but as usual most people look at the symptom and mistake it for the disease. (This is not a reference to racing.) Ontario is a huge, widely settled province. It's not uncommon for me to spend two hours on the highway during a working day. In this situation, people naturally want to cut back the hours they spend in their cars. However, there are only a few options for reducing your hours on the road, and the easiest one is to speed up. Except of course, we are only allowed 80 km/hr (50 m/hr). Oh yeah, that's just humming right along. At that rate it takes me over 2.5 hours to get to Peterborough. In theory, if I was to exceed that limit by 20 km/hr, I can shave almost 30 minutes off my drive.

Mathematical impossibility? It can work out because my attitude extends beyond the speed on the highway. I accelerate faster than most 80ers, drive through towns faster than moss grows, depending on population and schools, usually don't drop speed for corners, and pass with planning as opposed to suicidal intent. (Yes, I do have a clean driving record; no, my vehicle costs aren't extraordinary: Myths propagated by the fearful, uninformed, or easy-going.) Still not convinced? Too bad. Either the clock is lying, or I've found a way to warp time.

As far as I understand, our speed limit was initially taken down from 90 km/hr for fuel consumption reasons. However, from what I have read of cars today the most efficient speed for a fuel to time ratio is right about 90. How unusual, since most politicians are looking at the impact of their legislation way beyond their own term in office.

Admittedly, people are generally impatient today, and especially so in Ontario: Land of Stressed Business Folk. But I will argue that a bizarrely slow speed limit, given that most of our roads are straight and in great shape, does not help. True, people are responsible for their decisions, even when pedantic judges rule otherwise, but it is also true that there is no point in unnecessarily testing people. As an older friend of mine once said,

"They make law-breakers of us all."

Going back to the fellow I argued with, it is important to note the distinctions between us. He has been a lifetime employee. As long as he arrives on time, he can drive to work at whatever speed he wants. He's only paid for his time at work. Most of my time on the highway is spent getting materials and driving to job sites. Like my opponent, I am technically only paid for the time I work. Unlike him, my wages are not usually determined by the hour, but by the speed and skill with which I am able to finish my job. In other words, when I'm driving I'm either not making money, or even potentially losing it. Time is money.

When your wages are determined by putting in time as opposed to straight productivity, your brain makes an unavoidable negative connection with time. You -wait- for the time to pass, as opposed to trying to finish a job -before- the time has passed. The former results in people driving 70 in an 80, the latter in them driving 95 in an 80.

There is one more common factor to take into account, which cannot be influenced by the speed limit: age. The elderly often drive well below the posted speed, and while it sometimes frustrates me in the extreme, I know that it will only get worse as the Baby Boomers continue to retire in massive numbers. As such, I am resolved to just get used to it. What else can I do since I detest excess governmental control?

Still, in a country this size and with impatience on the rise, I would like to suggest an amendment to both the speed limit and the warning signs. The speed limit should be 90 km/hr --a theoretical safe 100 km/hr-- for reasons of sanity and fuel consumption, and the speeding signs should say:

Frustration kills. Breathe deeply and live.

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