Especially after driving on Germany's famed autobahns, driving on American highways can seem ridiculously slow and a terrific waste of time. Not for long, says an independent gubernatorial candidate running in Nevada, who has proposed a scheme to charge for the privilege of legal speeding.
The candidate is Eugene "Gino" DiSimone, and according to a recent Rasmussen Reports survey, he has no chance of beating out the leading Republican and Democrat front-runners. However, DiSimone's idea could outlast his candidacy.
The idea is a revenue-generating concept called the Free Limit Plan.
DiSimone estimates that selling drivers $25 day passes for the privilege of driving 90 mph on state roads could generate as much as $1.3 billion per year. DiSimone believes the idea can help Nevada, which like other states, is suffering a severe tax revenue drought.
An advocate of smaller government, candidate DiSimone wanted a state coffer-filling concept that didn't include levying additional taxes. He believes that a small percentage of the population (ranging from 1-10 percent) would be willing to pay for the privilege of saving time. In sparsely populated Nevada, a higher speed limit could theoretically cut the drive time between Las Vegas and Reno by almost a third. Since much of the route is two-lane, however, the claim seems optimistic at best.
Details on DiSimone's plan are sketchy in terms of exactly how it would be implemented, but the overall idea is still intriguing. The concept includes several key components:
DiSimone pointed out that Free Pass drivers would face especially stiff penalties if they exceeded the 90 mph limit, discouraging speeds above 90 mph. As envisioned, the Free Pass would not create a speeding free for all, nor would it return Nevada to its pre-1973 policy of not setting speed limits for rural roads.
Watch your speed while in these fast cars.
Cops Are Skeptical
On his campaign Web site, DiSimone cites anecdotal interviews with Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) officers who support the idea. However, AOL heard a different "official" position from Trooper Chuck Allen, the officer in charge of public information for Nevada Northern Command.
The 20-year veteran said, "Candidate DiSimone's idea runs absolutely counter to Nevada's overall plan for improving highway safety." Trooper Allen said that Nevada, like other Western states, is a free-range state. This means that many of the state's roads do not have fencing to keep livestock and wild animals off the roads. Allen said, "Higher speeds lengthen stopping distances, and that could lead to more vehicle-animal collisions."
Allen also referenced Nevada accident data that identified driver distraction as being a contributor to 80 percent of the state's accidents. He expressed doubt that the general public's driving skills were up to the task of driving so quickly.
Countering The Critics
The belief that "speed kills" provides the foundation for most critiques of DiSimone's plan. But these fears are notoriously hard to nail down with facts.
In 1995, Congress repealed the 55-mph speed limit that had been on the books for two decades. Safety advocates predicted that highway death and injury rates would skyrocket when some 33 states immediately raised speed limits. Two years later, the predicted thousands more deaths and millions more traffic-related injuries per year didn’t materialize, however. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 1997's traffic death rate dropped to a record low, with reported injuries declining by 66,000 between 1995 and 1997.
NHTSA measures highway safety in "deaths per 100-million vehicle miles traveled." This statistical measure aptly frames the safety of driving on American highways, by factoring in the growing number of drivers traveling more miles year over year. In 1995, the last year of the national 55-mph speed limit, there were 1.73 deaths per 100-million miles. The rate has dropped every year since but one, and now stands at the lowest recorded in 60 years, 1.13.
Why Pay At All?
Gary Biller of the National Motorists Association chimed in on the subject with this observation: "The most basic questions about the Free Limit Plan from a motorist standpoint is this: If the proposed 90 mph limit is a safe speed to travel, why shouldn’t all, not just some, motorists be allowed to drive at that speed on the public highways in question, and why should they be charged for the right to do so?"
Biller's point is well taken, in that raising the speed limit in Nevada would save all motorists time and therefore money, but ignores the political goal of adding money to state coffers.
So, revenue stream or not, the question remains: Could a plan like this work? Perhaps. Of course, there are practical issues to address. Utilizing programmable LED speed limit signs like those used in Germany could help control where and when higher speeds were permitted. Road selection is also critical for safety, as 90 mph on a curvy canyon two-lane would not be feasible.
Additional emphasis in drivers' training would be required, such that drivers understand the need for lane discipline and specialized skills for higher-speed driving. High fines would encourage drivers without passes to stay out of the fast line, just as with High Occupancy Vehicle lanes currently in use.
Such measures would help deal with the issue of increased speed differentials, the difference in speed between same-direction lanes of travel. It's well documented that more accidents occur in areas where there are higher speed differentials.
Additionally, if the 90-mph limit were to end up being considered safe by some acceptable metric, there could be interest in having a variable Free Limit speed limit. Imagine a top speed of 100 mph or even 120 on specially constructed, limited-access lanes? Perhaps a graduated driver license based on skills testing would enable even faster travel?
The reality of this conjecture, however, is that November 2 will come and go. Unless a political miracle happens, DiSimone won't win. His idea, however, is certainly free for other politicians to make politically viable.