Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Making It a Law, or Making It Impossible???

I've gotten a few new readers to this blog, and that's encouraging. I want to briefly go over one aspect of my idea that is really central to my "real world" application of cutting our "addiction to speed".

My proposal is to retrofit every car on the road, with a mechanical escapement. That way, there's no cheating about the top speed your car can go. You physically cannot go faster. Downhill, clutch

Where do we use escapement mechanisms today? In watches and clocks. This YouTube video is a great way to be introduced to this 500-year old mechanism:

I think ya gotta copy & paste with this blog.

If an escapement mechanism was fitted to the back wheel(s) of every vehicle (incl motorcycles), it would have the following consequences:

Everyone could start driving more slowly, with a max speed of 34 mph, all at the same time. You get the mechanism installed, it stays un-deployed until a "National Drop Day". Then, on that date, you pull a chord from underneath your car, the device is irretrievably deployed, and you stick the little sticker ("oil drop", "American Flag", "dollar sign") on your bumper to show that it is functioning. Everyone complies at the same time. No cheating. You can see the device from behind the car.

A much-needed cottage industry of building these devices, and installing these devices, would suck up a lot of UAW workers, and other auto workers, currently unemployed. Because they are mechanical, and not electronic, it would be easy to design, test, and install mechanical devices.

We have a lot of UAW and parts-plants workers either unemployed or driving huge distances (1000 miles) to new jobs. Why not locate these "escapement manufacturers" at old auto plant locations?? We have to cover 220 MILLION vehicles! That's a lot of immediate work!

Ever heard of dashboard radar detectors? There is a whole cottage industry devoted to evading the law and driving beyond the speed limit. I don't want to start another "evasion industry" by using electronics to limit speed. When such a "box of wires" does the speed control, it is not apparent why it is failing when it does fail. You're just staring at it. Without proper devices, no one could tell why it isn't functioning. Second, a whole "evasion industry" could easily create "cheater circuits". Imagine, six months into everyone driving 34mph top speed. You're on I-5 at midnight. Very few CHP are even monitoring the roads. You simply "switch off " your speed limiter, and go seventy for a while. Then, you switch it back on! Who can tell??!! A little bragging, and pretty soon everyone "with a brain" is using such stuff. With a mechanical escapement, you could build an elaborate system of cheating, but it would be much much more difficult. And, instead of staring at a little black box, the Highway Patrol could tell right away if you were sporting an extra-legal design/build. You just look ten seconds under the car.

Simply posting a speed limit, and turning everyone into lawbreakers, more or less, would be nigh impossible. Really hard to enforce.

If the USA led the way, other countries would follow. And, in countries like India, where they already make a $2500 car unsuitable for extreme high speeds, the cars would get even cheaper.

Car manufacturing would be on a path similar to the shoe industry. It used to be, everyone had one pair of shoes. A shoe was built to be worn on either foot. Then design advanced to "left shoe, right shoe" then better treads etc. Specialization went up (flip flops for the beach, running shoes, dress shoes, ski boots, hiking boots) and every one wore a pair depending on conditions. Prices (in real terms) went down. I would predict, with slower speeds, cars would get cheaper, and we'd actually own MORE cars! Specialized cars.

Right now, you see a jacked-up pickup with $5000 in extra suspension and lights, etc., taking ONE GUY to work, you have to think, "Would I ever wear my ski boots to the beach??!!"

If it was your ONLY footwear, you would!! That's what our world of cars is like today.

Remember, in World War II, the United States really changed the personal vehicle landscape. They didn't produce any cars, for years!! That was a sacrifice. A real sacrifice! This is only a modest change, just to save the planet.


King of the Road said...

I vote for making it expensive (as I described in my blog post discussing your blog). While I can understand your belief that making it impossible is the only solution, it's necessary to consider what can actually happen politically.

The American public won't tolerate such a thing until conditions deteriorate so much that it's too late for such a policy to prevent calamity.

Possibly, when the taxation for average excess speed is so expensive that few, if any, are doing it, perhaps it can be made impossible mechanically.

There are workarounds for this too, both electronic and mechanical, but I believe they could be (mostly) overcome.

Scott B said...

I'm just wary of clogging up our clogged-up courts with more cases, which wastes time for everyone.

I recently had to appear about a "car-pool" violation. The wrongful charge against me took place September 15th 2009. I got it dismissed January 8th 2010. Long lines (hundreds of people) starting at 7AM each time I visited the courthouse. At least HALF of the cases, were for driving while using a cellphone. $200+ fine does not seem to deter people.
I have also attempted to simulate the conditions where my car is only going 34mph tops. You simply cannot pay that much attention, so closely, all the time. I was drifting to 40+ every minute or so..even with the posted limit at 35!! Look at our freeways now. I try to go 60-65mph to try to save gas on a long trip (150 miles) but I simply cannot do it, if every one is passing me going 75 mph. (This is I-80 eastbound). I look down, and I'm going 70mph.

Making it mechanically impossible is key, IMHO. Otherwise, no one will manufacture lighter cars that cannot go more than 34, no retrofits of engines. Everyone will be waiting for the "repeal" and back to the old days.

King of the Road said...

I wouldn't do it through fines. I would suggest a data logger on the OBD-II that would count miles and log time. One would pay a tax at vehicle registration based on average speed. Time with the engine on but not moving would not be counted. For example, I never exceed 55 m.p.h. (except going down long hills with my engine off) but I had to drive my son to the hospital after a broken pelvis. I exceeded 55 m.p.h. by a considerable margin, but I could either pay for that or drive more slowly to compensate.

My vehicle shows average speed, I go 55 m.p.h. for the approximately 60% of the time I'm on the freeway, the rest is at typical posted limits on surface streets. My typical average speed for a tank full of gas is in the 36 m.p.h. range, so if the goal is 34 m.p.h., the average above which taxation is incurred would be considerably lower. Or, one could log miles driven above 34 m.p.h. and tax based on that. I haven't thought it full through.

But it wouldn't be based on speeding tickets.

Scott B said...

The situation where you had an "emergency" is one that I would be completely closing off with the mechanical, cannot go fast, physically, set up. You may be a decent driver, a good driver. It's not about you. It's about the guy who should NOT be driving fast, yet sees you and, voooom! Read the Nick Adenhardt post. That driver was going NINETY MILES AN HOUR on city streets, because he was "late" for something, at midnight.
The idea one could go fast, because you were rich and could "pay the tariff" is another bifurcator in society. I'm attempting to avoid those. People paid thousands for a new car, a Prius, just to use the diamond lane. It's caused resentment.

Arnold Schwartzenegger got elected because he promised to roll back the high registration fees. If everyone could start driving 70 again if the "transponder" were turned off, you'd ride into the Governorship with 80% of the votes. And who would be so daring as to produce a two-cylinder car with a 300cc displacement, only to have it instantly obsoleted by a new governor.

I've thought about all the possible ways. Mechanically, physically, is the only option. My opinion, but always entertaining better ideas that change my opinion.

In Athens, Greece, they attempted to restrict traffic in the central city by decreeing that certain days, only cars with license plates ending in odd numbers were allowed through, and even numbers on alternate days.

A huge number of drivers went out and bought a second car, just for the license plate! Congestion never diminished!

Police and ambulance would not be speed restricted. We take our chances with them all the time as it is.