Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Living Dangerously

A concerned friend posted an interesting comment to my satirical letter post this afternoon that I think deserves a response. Here's what he/she/it said:

"Speedracer-How much is this costing you? I'm thinking between the tickets, the possible DL revoke/ jail time, and the obvious stress on your mental/ physical health, speeding may not be worth it. You may actually live longer and have a greater influence on your wife & children if you slowed down. Just a thought from a concerned friend."

First the numbers: The three tickets total about $360. My insurance found out about all three tickets this month when my policy went up for renewal which will raise my insurance $20/month in 2008 so $240. I don't know if this increase will stay the same until all three tickets are off my 3-year record or if it'll go down if I don't get any additional tickets. This is money that didn't need to be spent, which is regretful, but has not taken the wind out of my sails. It was my Speeding Club dues for the past 4 years.

The threat of a license restriction (see the 'for reals' letter from the state) if I get another ticket is something I'd like to avoid and I really have dialed back the speed, thus the new countdown on the right margin. I really am driving around at less than 5 mph over the speed limit on the highway and almost right on the money elsewhere around town except in certain areas to keep up with the rest of traffic like Pawnee Rd just west of Rock. This feels remarkably slow and does actually increase my commuting time. I don't feel any safer because I am now in with the pack of bad drivers instead of slicing my way through them and putting them and their friends as far behind me as possible.

In terms of stress, this whole ordeal really and honestly has not caused much. I did expect to get burned at some point but it had been over 4 years since my previous ticket and I was pretty comfortable. I didn't expect two get 2 tickets in that one particular week but really the only mental anguish I experienced was having to tell my wife. So I honestly reject the mental/physical health reduction from stress point. I would probably be ranting about something else in place of those tickets, probably the common driving errors I put in the satirical letter. Maybe politics or environmentalists. I'm not necessarily a calm person.

I'm not sure Concerned was implying this or not, but I don't believe speeding in itself is dangerous if the driver is focussed on the art like I generally am. Yeah, that sounds snooty but I stand by it. From what I can gather from the 75+ miles I drive each day, I am much more alert, aware, and in control that the majority of other drivers on the road. I'm constantly scanning the horizon and probably the 1/2 mile in front of me not just for speed traps and cop cars (although I can identify the silhouette of a Crown Vic from any angle) but for where traffic is flowing and what it's doing. This is a skill taught in race driving school (I've been thru a 1-day course) and something I consciously practice. It gives me a heads-up on who's going where and also reduces the sensation of speed greatly. If I see a slow-down and a sea of brake lights a mile ahead of me on I-135 I have tens of seconds to react instead of a split second like the average person who seems to be mesmerized by the rear bumper on the car in front of them.

I really take driving seriously. My hands are at 9:30 and 2:30 on the wheel at almost all times. My thumbs are even resting on the wheel, not choking it. This makes for quick precise steering inputs and full control at all times. None of my weight is resting on the wheel. If I have to react quickly I won't be off-balance and unable to correct the wheel if I have to swerve. If you look like this when you drive you're doing it wrong:

My seat back is also in the proper angle so that my arms aren't too straight and aren't too bent. It's comfortable and again, affords me a quick and precise reaction. The seat bottom is adjusted just far enough aft so once again my legs aren't too straight or bent for the same reasons. Sorry Mr. Gangsta but you're also doing it wrong.

I also have a personal policy of not talking on my cell phone while driving unless it's absolutely necessary. I'll really only pick up if it's Annie and I frequently tell her I'm driving and I'll call her right back if it's not an emergency. I've also don't spend much on car stereos. The ones I have generally came with the car and although I like music a lot I don't listen to it in the car much. I'd rather hear the beautiful wail of my BMW's inline-six or the frantic screams of the Honda B16 four cylinder when I'm in the city. Engine revs and gear changes are a thing of beauty and I don't get sick of it. That's my own personal problem. I do admit to listening to talk radio on the long highway cruise but it's not loud and I'm generally tuning half of it out because it's all commercials. If I'm really going on a long distance trip then I'll break out the CD's. I don't find much fault with that.

I'd also like to say this about speed limits. They are the lowest common denominator. The driver with the worst skills, the one who barely got a drivers license, in the worst street legal car is the one the speed limit is calculated for. The numbers haven't changed at all since probably the 50's except for the interstate highway speed limits which actually used to be higher in places. I don't know if any of you have driven a 1950's or 1960's car with drum brakes and uber-soft suspension, but it's a whole different world than today's cars. 45mph feels like 70 and turns you wouldn't notice today would test the limits of the tires and suspension. Brake pedals were firm and ineffective. The whole experience is not unlike hopping on a tractor these days. So our speed limits were designed around a car like that driven by someone with marginal skills and slow response times.

So what's an attentive moderately skilled driver in a well-maintained high performance car to do? In my case it will be something I should have done a long time ago. Buy a really nice radar detector and get on with it. I'm still going to have to play it cool for a while but that's the long term plan.

If this world and this government were perfect there would be a multi-tiered drivers license system based completely off training and ability testing. Your base level license would only allow you to pilot a compact car and the new low level speed limit. With each successive training class and test you could drive something bigger and/or more powerful and at the new higher speed limit on the same roads. This is basically the way airplane pilot's licenses are structured. I do believe it should costs thousands of dollars to get to the top level and something like $1500 to get the very basic first level license. Then drivers would take things seriously and the unskilled and the dangerous would be weeded out. Public transportation would flourish (you can thank me later, environmentalists) because I'm betting 30-40% of the driving public today would be forced off the roads. They just wouldn't be capable of proving themselves in a lot of situations and/or wouldn't want to make the necessary investment.

I'm sure I'll have some explaining to do when Anthony and Isabella are 16 but it's going to be hard for me to accept that their skill levels will be up to the task of driving this way at essentially zero seat time. They are also individuals with unique skills and interests and may not ever be up for it. That's a bridge I'll cross when we get there. But in the meantime I won't fib to them. They're going to witness their old man speed safely. Hopefully that's a good example even if it's not a perfect one. It's not a good thing to say the laws don't apply to me but I just happen to disagree with this one and the government also considers it to be a fairly minor offense.

Is this the longest post ever? I'll have to check. Anyway, no hard feelings, Concerned, seriously. You brought up a good point and I'm glad we could do this.


Annie said...

As your wife and frequent passenger, I am qualified to say that you are one of the safest drivers I have ever known. I think I have seen this more since we started autocrossing together. It does make you see the road in a new way.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of a tiered license system. I'd like to think that I'm a pretty good driver too, problem is, I let myself get too frustrated with the drivers I think are bad. That tends to make my driving erratic.

"Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."
(part of a Special Forces saying.)

I'm not saying slow down, necessarily. I've found through experience that sometimes going with the flow and taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves has been faster for me than trying to force my way through the traffic.

Anyway... keep on truckin'.


Jason R said...

Good points, Robert. I don't suggest forcing one's way through traffic by tailgating or changing lanes furiously. It's absolutely better and smoother to look ahead and find reasonably sized gaps (they're always there) to take advantage of them without cutting anyone off.

"Smooth is fast" is a popular saying in racing circles for some of the same reasons, I bet.

teason said...

more $$$ for higher levels of privilege? sounds like scientology, tom. maybe once you reach the top tier (i think it should be called megatron VII) you could "heal" all of the driving problems that plague the lowly masses. and then annie could change her name to katie and all would be swell. you could be the father of "drivanetics".

Melanie-Pearl said...

Just for the record, I am not the anonymous commenter. If I'm gonna wear egg, I'm gonna own it. there might still be egg on my face from the enviro post.

(Really, I was just trying to get some dialogue (out of the real brain behind your humor) out there in case people found your sarcasm to be too harsh. Ya know, meddling never works out...I should have just let people figure it out for themselves. Thanks for not being too surly.)

I love the countdown! Just remember you can't appreciate extreme speeds without experiencing extreme slowness.

I would feel 100% safe with you speeding behind the wheel in any circumstance. I know you and your wife are bada$$ drivers.

Since you "can't drive sixty-fiiiiiiiiiiiive!!!!!!" I say get the fuzzbuster and live large.

-the M to the P

Jason R said...


Perhaps you should stop by my office so we can get a G-Meter reading of your aura. I have always suspected you are an especially spiritual being so I expect the readings to be abnormally high. Perhaps you'd like to learn more...

Jason R said...


I didn't suspect you were the concerned anonymous friend. I have my suspicions on who it might be but I'll never ask anyone. That would be very unsporting, especially since Concerned was only posing a thoughtful question in my own interests.

Anonymous said...

Knowing that you have lived in Kansas City and the area of town that you lived in, you have to be a good driver. You have to keep an eye on the other person or else you LOOSE!!! I-35 in Johnson county or 435 in KCK in rush hour, YUCK!!! I don't miss that anymore.

Anyway, I'm NOT "concerned" about Annie or the kids riding with you.

People need to OWN their comments!!


Anonymous said...

Not sure where to post this but I wanted to ask if anyone has heard of National Clicks?

Can someone help me find it?

Overheard some co-workers talking about it all week but didn't have time to ask so I thought I would post it here to see if someone could help me out.

Seems to be getting alot of buzz right now.