3:00 PM EDT, September 18, 2012
One of your readers recently wrote that "speed limits were developed before" power steering, anti-lock brakes, and other technological improvements in vehicles. The implication by that writer was that speed limits could be increased now, and that speed cameras were not needed. While it is true that, technologically, vehicles have had all kinds of safety improvements done by engineers and factories over the years, what remains in effect are the laws of physics. A 2-ton piece of metal traveling at 60 mph will still require a certain amount of minimum distance in order to come to a halt.
The human element is the most crucial, as video game programming has been transferred to many human nervous systems by instantly-gratifying "screen time." The highway is not a video game, and a car windshield is not a television screen. However, real physical laws are still the same as always, and not all people are robots (yet). Following another car at 60 mph with only 10 or 20 feet between cars is insanely dangerous for everyone within harm's way. Check out the hospital emergency rooms and the accident statistics for the effects of speeding and following-too-closely references.
Just as the technology exists now for the automatic application of a car's brakes to prevent a backing-up accident in the driveway or to park a car "hands free," engineering could also produce a device built into all cars (front and back) which automatically calculates the speed and weight of each vehicle and automatically applies the corrective mechanical and electrical measures to the car that is following too closely. Thus, a safe following distance could be created automatically — or at least warn the driver of the car behind. The technology exists. Car insurance companies and body shops may protest, but injuries and deaths from tailgaters and speeders would go down.
Drivers need to learn or re-learn to behave as responsible adults, minding the basic driving rules of safety such as maintaining "one car length for every ten miles per hour" (depending on weather and road conditions). Meanwhile, let those speed cameras roll to inhibit those unwilling or unable to drive safely, encouraging them to keep a safe following distance, technology or no technology and let everyone buckle up.
Edgar C. Ludwig, Baltimore
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