Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

I always drive in the leftmost lane at exactly 9.5 mph over the speed limit…

In Around the web on September 10, 2012 at 5:58 am

Club Orlov

Recently circumstances have conspired to make it necessary for me to drive hundreds of miles all over New England. I don’t often drive. The last time I owned a car was over a decade ago, and I haven’t missed it. I bicycle a lot, plus Boston’s public transportation is not too awful. When I do need a car, I either use a Zipcar, or I rent one.

Driving is by far the most dangerous activity I engage in. Both government statistics and ample anecdotal evidence show that bicycling through Boston rush-hour traffic, or sailing off into the stormy North Atlantic on a small sailboat, or flying halfway around the world on a semi-regular basis, or riding buses and trains wherever I go—all of these modes of transportation are much safer than climbing behind the wheel of a car, strapping yourself down, and driving it on the highway. My engineer’s mind rebels against such dangerously inferior technology. It appears that cars are mankind’s second worst invention, after nuclear fission. To drive a car is to acquiesce in the suicidal stupidity of our species.

Never mind all that, I just don’t like to drive. Being trapped for hours on end in a padded sheet metal box rolling through a desolate landscape of tarmac, highway signs and mowed margins is like being trapped inside a sensory deprivation experiment. Operating a car is a menial chore that reduces the mind to that of an insect crawling along single-file with other insects. Why is it that, after some 20 years of formal schooling, perhaps another 10 of self-education, and half a lifetime of valuable experience, I am suddenly being forced to accept the job of a chauffeur—a job comparable to that of a janitor, a landscaper or a security guard, which are all jobs that should not require even a high school diploma?

Before we get too far, I would like to say something to those who drive every day: You are welcome. Yes, I know that I am forced to pay taxes to subsidize your driving even if I don’t drive. I still have to pay for your highways and your fossil fuel subsidies and your military expenditure to secure the oil supplies and your traffic law enforcement. I also have to subsidize your medical treatment when you suffer a car crash, as well as your subsequent disability compensation. I even have to pay for your food stamps, because you can’t afford to both drive a car and eat, but drive a car anyway. I suppose I could be bitter about this, but I am an ungrudging, magnanimous sort of person, and so I say, “You are welcome. Enjoy your subsidy.” Some show of gratitude would, of course, be welcome, but gratitude is not something one can demand.

Also, I do understand the juvenile urge to head out on the open road. A long time ago, in my youthful exuberance, I did my share of road trips, and the path of my meanderings scribbled all over substantial portions of the US, Canada and Mexico. I also received my share of speeding tickets, especially in New Hampshire, a southern state that accidentally came to be wedged against the Canadian border. New Hampshire’s rinky-dink economy is propped up by the three pillars of the Portsmouth Naval Yard, Mitt Romney’s checkbook and a huge stack of speeding tickets handed out to tourists. But that was before I discovered The System. The System has allowed me to always be speeding while avoiding speeding tickets entirely. I have not received a single speeding ticket since I adopted The System. I wish to share The System with you, out of the goodness of my heart, so that you too can benefit from it.

As I mentioned, I don’t often drive, but when I do I drive in the leftmost lane at exactly 9.5 mph over the speed limit. This is done exclusively under cruise control; once on the highway, I do not touch the pedals except in case of emergency. Nor do I speed up or slow down unless the speed limit changes; once the cruise control is set to the right speed (calibrated via GPS if possible, since speedometers tend to be inaccurate up to ±3.5 mph) the only two buttons I use are “cancel” and “resume.” I press “cancel” if there is someone in front of me going slower than 9.5 mph over the speed limit; I press “resume” once the safe braking distance (one car length for each 10 mph of speed) is restored. I also sometimes press “cancel” and “resume” rhythmically if drivers behind me are blatantly violating the safe braking distance rule. This sometimes causes their heads to explode, helping to keep the gene pool from becoming overgrown with pond scum. But most of the time I just cruise along, at 64.5 mph in the 55-mph zone, or at 74.5 mph in the 66-mph zone, and everyone lines up in an orderly convoy behind me, doing all the things that go along with driving (sexting each other, polishing their nails, masturbating, looking for new tunes on their mp3 player, slurping carbonated corn syrup out of a sippy-cup, or as many of the above at the same time as humanly possible).

The reason for this strict self-imposed speed limit is that the police only give tickets to those who exceed the speed limit by more than 10 mph. This is an unwritten rule, but it has been experimentally validated over an extended period of time. You should, of course, feel free to reproduce my results (I believe in the scientific method) but I have to warn you that such research tends to be expensive and cause travel delays. There is some anecdotal evidence that speeding by up to 13 mph may be relatively safe, but I feel that investment into research in this domain has already achieved diminishing returns.

There are several reasons why The System requires driving in the leftmost lane. First, the left lane is least likely to have slower traffic in it. Some highways sporadically display the sign “Slower traffic keep right,” which most people tend to obey. Obviously, the reason I do not keep right is because I am not slower traffic: I am faster traffic—so fast I am borderline illegal. Of course, if someone has a legitimate need to pass me (emergency vehicles, ambulances, police) then I change lanes to let them pass. As for the rest, I refuse to serve as an enabler for reckless driving or wanton disregard of traffic laws. Other highways (especially in hilly or mountainous areas) display the sign “Keep right except to pass,” and I, of course, obey it.

Second, the left lane tends to be the least potholed and rutted, because many highways ban trucks from the left lane, and this results in a smoother, more pleasant ride. Third, whereas driving in other lanes forces one to pay attention to three lanes, front and back, all at the same time, driving in the left lane makes it possible to just pay attention to what’s directly in front and what’s directly in the back, paying almost no attention to what’s on the right. In fact, it is a good idea to pay no attention to what is on the right, because the next-to-leftmost lane, in my experience, tends to be populated by demented people who drive erratically, scream with the window rolled down, and use lewd hand gestures. But I can’t hear what they are saying, because I like to listen to symphonies when I drive, so that their pathetic screams are drowned out by the majesty of the Jupiter, the Pastorale or the Ode to Joy (to which I sometimes sing along at the top of my lungs). I sometimes catch glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye, but generally I don’t even notice them because I only need to look straight ahead or in the rear view mirror.

One criticism I have heard of The System is that it deprives the police of revenue from speeding tickets. This, I agree, is a legitimate concern, but I assure you that there is no need to worry. You see, there is a certain small but significant number of drivers who, after driving at exactly 9.5 mph over the speed limit for some duration, feel compelled, for reasons that remain mysterious, to shift one lane to the right and to floor the gas pedal for a while. From the perspective of the traffic police, this is like having a large, fat fish jump straight into your boat, and many a time have I seen such drivers pulled over on the side of the road just minutes after the onset of their episode of uncontrolled speeding. Most people don’t suffer from this syndrome, and drive behind me in an orderly convoy, sexting each other, polishing their nails, masturbating, looking for new tunes on their mp3 player, slurping carbonated corn syrup out of a sippy-cup, or as many of the above at the same time as humanly possible. Thus, The System helps make speeding fines even more of a tax on stupidity then they are normally (along with other taxes on stupidity, such as the lottery and gambling) making it a good way to see to it that “The fool and his money are soon parted.”

…and from James Howard Kunstler

Sidebar on  How “Smart” We Think We Are
      TV commercial seen during the Women’s finals of the US Tennis Open:
      Cadillac is bragging that they have replaced the old dashboard knobs and toggles with a “smart” iPad-type control system. Has a car company ever done something so fucking stupid? The whole point of knobs and toggles is that you can keep your eyes on the road while adjusting things by feel. An iPad you actually have to look at to see what you’re tapping on. Expect a colossal death toll from buyers of the latest Cadillacs in the next couple of years. I suppose there’s poetic justice in the automobile age winding down on a note of such supernatural idiocy.

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