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Front Page » July 15, 2008 » Opinion » Double nickel speed limit
Published 2,258 days ago

Double nickel speed limit


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By TOM MCCOURT
Guest Contributor

Today we hear that the politicians who gave us the current oil crisis are formulating a plan to fix it.

Hold on tight, this could get ugly.

Could it be that our fearless leaders are going to drill for more oil to ease our pain at the gas pumps? Not a chance. That would make far too much sense. Instead, one of the plans is to re-instate a national 55-mile per hour speed limit. Those of you who remember disco and leisure suits will remember when the double nickel speed limit was the law of the land.

The national 55-mile per hour speed limit was first implemented in 1974 and endured until 1995. (Endure: to suffer, tolerate, undergo, bear, or carry on under adversity). The idea was to slow everyone down in an effort to save gas.

The speed limit was put into effect shortly after the Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Arabs back in October 1973. We supported the Israelis and the Arabs turned off our oil spigot. The price of crude oil quadrupled overnight. There were long lines at the gas stations and much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth over our dependence on foreign oil. We were importing about 26 percent of our domestic needs back then.

And so, in 1974 our politicians set out to fix the problem. They promised we would never again be held hostage over oil. They vowed to make our country energy independent as quickly as possible. Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter all championed the cause. Citizens cheered and traded in their gas-guzzling muscle cars and 1970s station wagons for economical unexploded Ford Pintos. Everyone was excited about becoming energy independent. We didn't want to ever again endure (see definition above) the sight of our national leaders shamelessly groveling and kissing up to Arab sheiks bedecked with diamonds and haughty smirks. So far so good, right?

But then they instituted the national 55-mile per hour speed limit and the whole energy independence thing fell apart. It seems that a lower speed limit solved all of our problems because that's all congress ever did to solve the 1970s oil crisis. Within a year the Arabs lowered the price of crude, and by 1995 when the 55 speed limit was finally discontinued, our dependence on foreign oil had doubled to 50 percent of domestic use. Today it's almost 70 percent. In spite of all the talk, since 1974 our national energy policy can be summed up in three words - import more oil.

And since the 55-mile per hour speed limit worked so well the last time we had an energy crisis, the politicians want to use it again this time. Of course it won't do anything to help at the gas pump, but at least congress can say they did something. And besides, there are some advantages to having a lower national speed limit. Here are a few.

•Fewer bugs on the windshield.

•It takes longer to drive to work so we have more time to comb hair and put on makeup while driving.

•Everyone can listen to Rush Limbaugh for an extra 15 minutes each day.

•It's a moneymaker for government because cops write more speeding tickets.

•Spending more time in traffic helps you bond with members of the carpool.

•More vacation time is spent enjoying the scenery as it slowly goes past.

•Tourism benefits because it takes more time and rest stops to get from place to place.

•Road rage happens at lower, safer speeds.

•It's easier to road hunt along the interstate.

There are some disadvantages, too. For instance if every car in the Salt Lake valley spends an extra 15 minutes on the road every day because of lower speed limits, won't that increase air pollution and fuel consumption? In addition interstate commerce slows down, and time is money. Who pays the extra shipping costs?

But what the heck, a 55-mile per hour speed limit is a safe, do nothing, feel-good solution to the energy crisis. Politicians can say they did something, without really doing anything, while not offending anyone but the little people who commute to work.

Expect to see those 55-mph road signs real soon.

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