The most facile argument against speeding is the teacher inspired “It’s not big and it’s not clever.” Well it is, because everything we have done as a species since we first left the trees has revolved around being better, faster and more efficient than whatever went before. It is part of the human condition every bit as much as our instincts to feed ourselves and to reproduce.
There is no civilization in the history of mankind which has profited from slowing itself down or hindering and even reversing this desire for improvement, and no area of our lives where we accept that things now are slower, less efficient and worse than they were in the past. We expect year on year improvements in every area of our lives and we normally get them because we obsessively strive for them in every area.
Cars have kept pace with this, and the worst, most basic car you can buy today is better in almost every way than the vast majority of cars made in 1965 when the speed limits were introduced in the UK. A modern car in good condition is safer cruising on the motorway at 100mph than any 1960s car at 70mph, yet the limits have been lowered and the enforcement of them stepped up relentlessly. On quiet, dry motorways in the right car with a competent drive, 120mph is quite manageable.
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What Should Speed Limits Really Be?
We could raise the speed limit to 90 which would be a good start, 120 would be real progress, but that will still become dated in a few years. As cars, roads and drivers improve there is no reason not to expect safe cruising speeds to carry on going up. Why not 150 or 200mph when it’s safe? At one time it was 4mph, and you had to have a man with a flag in front of you. The idea of ordinary millions of working men and women driving along at 80mph on their daily routes to work would have seemed probably more incredible then.
The idea of an upper limit applied always and everywhere remaining unchanged for decades is fundamentally wrong on a philosophical level. It’s a denial of who we are and what we do as a species.
The way we as a country go about regulating speed limits is also a sad indictment of the kind of society we are – One that is stifled by regulations, one that is obsessed with safety as an end in itself, one that has lost the will and the habit of improvement in exchange for the comfort of imposed order and one that has lost belief in itself and it’s people’s ability to use their own judgement.
It’s no coincidence that crime has risen over the same period, or that drug use has become normal, or that taxes have gone up every year – people are scared to think for themselves; so mistrustful of others that they need them to be bound by ever more laws and watched by ever more cameras. And yet we still feel more threatened than ever before too. By crime, by terrorism, by disease, by globalization and it’s effect on our financial well being. Not that each of these threats aren’t real, but compare them to previous threats – of nuclear war, of invasion, of death from diseases that would hardly register nowadays, and from the real threat of starving to death if you were poor in the 19th century.
All of these improvements are down to the same basic instinct that pushes your right foot down that bit further, and when you deny that instinct you’re denying the inventive, the striving, the imaginative and creative side of your brain. The side that put a man on the moon, that crossed oceans, tamed animals, built houses and lit fires. You’re denying being human and accepting a position as a dumb beast of burden, cowed by your masters into plodding along for all eternity at the speed they dictate, against your own judgement and desire. Swapping the ecstasy of achievement for the safety of the feudal serf.
So go on, drive faster – it is big and it is incredibly clever.