Ever since automobiles first appeared over 100 years ago, every automaker has tried to make them go faster. And they succeeded. Nearly every year, cars became more powerful with higher top-end speeds. But then, in the mid-1950s, we hit a plateau. The national speed limit was set at 70 miles per hour, and we've been stuck at that rate ever since. As a result, the automobile has made absolutely no progress as a transportation device in over half a century.
Actually, in 1974, it got worse. The national speed limit was lowered to 55 mph, ostensibly to save fuel and lives (it did neither). Such an agonizingly slow rate of travel proved too much to take for most Americans. We demanded that the limit be raised, and we got it back to 70 mph. Now it's time to demand another raise.
I'm not talking about some sort of modest increase to, say, 85 mph. We need to put a comprehensive plan in place to gradually move the limit up, over the next couple of decades, to 150 miles an hour. And we need to do that with no sacrifice in fuel economy or safety.
Continue reading Opinion: Time to raise the speed limit, how does 150 MPH sound?...
People tell me it's impossible or crazy to design passenger cars to go 150 mph. But do you want to know why German luxury cars are so good? Because they're designed to go 150. In fact, most of them have speed limiters on them. Otherwise, they'd go faster.
Speed itself is not a safety hazard. It's the difference in speeds between cars that lead to accidents. Somebody driving 50 mph while all the cars around them are flashing past at 70 mph or greater is creating a hazard. But if everyone is going the same speed, the situation is a lot safer – even at much higher speeds.
Just like today's Autobahn, some sections of highway would have lower limits, while others would be set at the maximum. The speed limit could also vary depending on the time of day and traffic load.
Before this decade is out we're going to see big strides in vehicle-to-vehicle communication, using radio frequencies and GPS. We've already got adaptive cruise control and radar-controlled braking. Put it all together and we're literally on the verge of making it almost impossible for cars to crash into one another, even if the driver fails to act. In the next decade, we're going to see the first commercialization of autonomous technology, where cars can literally drive themselves. That opens up the door to a 150-mph speed limit on national highways.
This technology also creates the opportunity to use what the transportation experts call "platooning." Cars could travel in packs, or platoons, in a nose-to-tail file not unlike the NASCAR guys drafting each other. But in this case the cars would be electronically linked together. And that kind of drafting would produce significant gains in fuel economy.
A 150-mph speed limit would transform automotive transportation. I daresay no one would ever again take an airplane ride of 500 miles or less. It would be so much faster and convenient to drive – no more pat downs from the friendly TSA agents!
Setting this kind of stretch goal would unleash a frenzy of R&D activity, create new companies, grow new jobs, and produce an economic boom much like building the Intestate Highway System did. It's just a matter of getting our heads around the idea.
Back in the 19th Century, Queen Victoria stipulated that any time she travel by train it was prohibited from going more than 40 miles an hour. The thinking was that going any faster than that was harmful to one's health. We laugh at that concept today, just as, later in this century, they'll laugh at us for thinking that driving 150 mph was dangerous.
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