Speed Traps: Necessary Evil or Dangerous Distraction?


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If you live in Massachusetts you know that the speed limit for most of Rte. 128 (if not all) is 55 mph. This is a Four-Lane (in many parts) highway, used by millions each day to commute to work, during the work day the speed limit is mostly irrelevant because the traffic is so bad, yet when the traffic has finally gone you’re still supposed to travel no faster than 55mph…

There are plenty of examples all throughout the country of ridiculously low speed limits, set in the 70’s during a fuel shortage to decrease consumption. SO WHY ARE THEY STILL SO LOW?!?!?!

In Massachusetts we have some of the most stringent vehicle inspection requirements in the country, we have emissions, brakes, tires, and every other safety test. The stopping distance of a new car at highways speeds is two-thirds shorter than one from the 70’s. What might have taken a car in the 70’s 350 feet to stop from 65 MPH now takes a regular hatchback less than 150 feet. Not only is stopping distance improved, suspension has been optimized and cars don’t even get their optimal mpg at 55 mph any more, we have 8 speed transmissions now where 55 mph wouldn’t even have the car in 7th gear…

In addition to the fact that cars are much, much…. MUCH better than they were when these archaic speed limits were set in place I like to argue that having to watch for speed traps (nobody goes 55 on Rte. 128, you’d cause an accident if you did) is actually more dangerous than not having them. Think of how much attention people divert to watching for cops on the side of the road… I’d bet I devote 50% of my attention when driving to looking for cops. I also never text and drive or key anything in to my phone or do other distracting things, so imagine how much attention someone who texts, does their makeup, and eats loses when they look for cops (If you do all those things I just said you shouldn’t be on the road and I have no sympathy for you if you crash).

I would drive however fast I feel comfortable if there were no speed limits. I drive a performance sedan with big brakes, fat tires and performance suspension so I know I can take turns faster and brake shorter than a typical sedan like a Camry, I also know my car isn’t as capable as a nimble Porsche or other sports car… On 128 the speed I feel comfortable sustaining would be 85 mph, the roads aren’t straight but most modern cars can (and do) easily drive the winding roads of 128 at 75-80 mph… So why are the limits 55mph?

I think the answer is, like all things government… That they want the money. Though 128 isn’t rife with speed traps (in my experience), if the state so chose, they could ticket nearly every single driver who takes 128 during non-traffic hours. EVERYONE goes over 55 mph, like I said it’s dangerous not to. In example: When I had a fuel sipping Ford Focus (2012) I tested various speeds along 128 and then Route 95 (limit of 65 mph) to determine which speed was best for fuel mileage (it turns out that I was able to get 48 mpg average with air conditioning off by travelling consistently at 63 mph). I tested various speeds from 50 mph to 75 mph and it exhibited a bell-curve with 63 mph being peak efficiency. At 55 mph my car wouldn’t stay in 6th gear and thus achieved worse fuel mileage than 63 mph. When I was running these tests in the 50-60 mph speed ranges it was dangerous because people would close in on me at +20 mph. If someone is going 55 mph and someone is doing 80 (and most are doing 75 mph) that closing speed is very fast, when people go 55 or less and they aren’t in the right lane it’s even worse. Back to the original point, the fact that cars are perfectly safe at 65 mph and even get better mpg at that speed leads me to conclude that the government just wants to be able to give tickets to anyone if they need revenue. The other possible reason is because they don’t want to have to fix the roads that they rip up every winter. It’s a lot easy to just pocket our tax money and supplement that with ticket revenues than it is to actually do their jobs.

I’m not arguing for no speed limits, at least not on 128. Every road is different but 55 mph is ridiculous, for a major highway. Anywhere such a limit exists should be immediately increased to 65 mph or higher. Most drivers in this country are not capable of driving safely at a hundred mph, and in most parts of the country the cars aren’t safely capable of that either. In states where inspections are required I can’t understand any logical argument contrary to raising our speed limits. If you want people to focus on the road, let’s start by removing the number one distraction – looking for speed traps. – Bishop