In 1974 President Nixon signed the Uniform Speed Limit which forced every state to set the speed limit at 55 mph if they received highway funds. I remember how painful it was to ride from Mississippi to Ohio to visit my grandparents once we moved in 1979. There were many drivers who did not follow the law, but my father was compelled to obey. The drive took two days, and we always stopped in Jackson Tennessee at a hotel for the night. In the summer, the stop was often my favorite part of our trip. The hotel pool was chilled and refreshing and the exercise was more than welcomed. Sometimes we would meet children from other states and ask them what their life was like. In the winter, I sat at the desk and tried writing letters to my friends. The boys usually fought, and dad had the TV blasted and sirens blared as his favorite crime drama filled the air. The room wasn’t much bigger than our car, and the hotel stationary for me provided at least some relief. Finally, in 1995 congress lifted all federal speed limit controls with the National Highway System designation act. By that point five people crammed into a Pinto for sixteen hours was just a memory. Trips with my parents had come to a close as I was already ferrying my own children around.
Today, Texas boasts speed limits of up to 85mph. On highways in a number of states “55 Arrive Alive” remains king. The one other change I have noticed in my lifetime is how fast over any given speed limit people are willing to drive. The hard and steadfast rule in earlier years was five over, any more than that and you’d be paying a hefty fine. Most drivers these days are willing to risk as much as seven to eight miles about the law. Then there are those few risk takers, who come barreling down the interstate horns blasting, lights flashing, and offering up a greeting to anyone in their way. They are weighing the risk of a ticket or accident beginning at an extra 20-30 mph! The term “Road Rage” has been used to describe these daring stunt show wannabees. Worse is, the poor sap who wants to follow the rules (or at least the 7-8 over) is eating their dust as they come careening by. Once I witnessed a car drive down the middle of two lanes when the person in front of them would not yield to their antics.
There are emergencies, and the law understands this. More than likely it’s not a real emergency but a self-created one. The person failed to leave on time for work, or whatever event required their attention. I once had a sign in my rearview window that said, “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” These road bullies do not stop at breaking the speed limit; they have a handy list of other tricks in their bag. Beginning with: Being in the turn lane and butting ahead of those going straight, pulling way into the middle of the road on a red light, and running practically every stop sign. When an accident occurs they try and blame the other driver and are usually not the ones who get injured. Meanwhile the other driver’s car is totaled, and the passenger succumbs to an ER visit or worse.
Even worse technology has upped the ante. Texting while driving, sums up today’s blog. It used to be when I encountered someone weaving in and out of the lines, and running off the side of the road, I assumed they were drunk. Now my first guess is always multitasking, rather than drinking. Texting or talking while driving and sometimes: Eating, applying makeup, and smoking are all together in one neat task. Lives are being lost or drastically changed because we try to accomplish too much behind the wheel. We stayed out too late, missed breakfast and are at risk of the kids being late for school or us late for our morning meeting. We have become such a schedule driven society that the lines become blurred when the road meets the demands of our lives. There are many aids out there that can allow us to be hands free and save lives. Alexa, Siri, and Google are all willing and ready to handle our phone tasks and schedule requests. Meanwhile that ticket we don’t have to pay will go a long way toward paying off debt or feeding our families.