Driver's Seat: Let's start to be more sensible when enforcing rules of road Be more sensible when enforcing rules

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Not every driver can say he hurried a police car out of his way -- without facing fines or incarceration.

But not everyone can be Mr. Driver's Seat.

While traveling home from work in the wee hours of a Monday morning, I found myself behind another driver going justthismuchslower than my cruise control setting.

I looked in my rearview and saw headlights from another vehicle quickly approaching from behind. I waited and let Mr. Car Quickly Passing Me move along. But as he pulled alongside both my car and the one in front, he morphed into Mr. Left Lane Bandit. Now I was boxed in.

Grrr.

Eventually Mr. Left Lane Bandit started to move ahead, so I moved into the left lane to see if he would speed up. No scooching forward, no lights flashed; I was polite. Honest.

That was lucky for me, because after a few seconds, Mr. Left Lane Bandit flashed red and blue lights.

I very politely eased off the gas, took my place behind the first car as before and waited, calculating how big a fine tailgating a police car might run. But Officer Left Lane Bandit sped ahead, disembarking at the next off-ramp.

I let out a sigh of relief.

Speed it up: I tell this story because speeding has been on my mind since I learned that state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, has issued a proposal to increase the maximum speed limit on Pennsylvania interstate highways and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The bill would raise the maximum Pennsylvania speed limit to 70 mph, matching 32 other states that have already left 65 in the dust, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

This could be a good thing, but it stops short.

It's fairly obvious I wasn't going the posted speed limit above. And even 70 remains on the low side of traffic velocity along almost every interstate I've traveled around the Eastern Seaboard and Great Lakes. Ever ride I-95? Many are the drivers who take that highway designator to be the posted speed limit.

Plus, I spend a great deal of my time in the Philadelphia region, where, as in Allegheny County, speed limits remain locked at the old double nickel (except on the Pennsylvania Turnpike). The design speed for interstate highways was 50 to 70 miles per hour in 1956, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and I'm sure automakers would concur that 1950s cars were perhaps slightly inferior to today's.

The bill proposed by Mr. Scarnati would only allow studies to be pursued; each stretch of highway would have to meet certain criteria before its posted speed limit would be raised. Unfortunately, even then, it'll still be on the slow side.

Slow it down: Yet where one legislator attempts to giveth, another aims to taketh away.

As the Legislature continues in its attempt to provide consistent funding for highways around the state, and Gov. Tom Corbett scolds them to get their act together, at least one proposal would put a $100 surcharge on speeders and others who violate traffic laws to help provide enough money for roads and mass transit.

As a spirited but extremely attentive driver, I find the focus on speed limits takes the easy way out. I spend a lot of time on the road and see other drivers' bad judgment during almost every trip. I'd say surcharges on stupid stuff are a great idea, but not for simple speed limit violations, unless egregious.

I'm hoping technology will help us in this regard.

Technological: For the love of all things automotive, let's start using our technological prowess for good and not evil.

With Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 3.0 in Washington, D.C., for college and work, a lot of our motoring happens south of the Mason-Dixon Line and inside the Beltway, where speed cameras and traffic-light cameras are commonplace. I know this because I've had five drivers' worth of violations arriving to the family mailbox.

We all want drivers to follow speed limits and obey traffic signals. But when a six-lane boulevard next to a university has a posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour, the city is thinking less about safety than about quickly and efficiently lining its own coffers. Traffic cameras can be a quick short-term fix, but over the long term, drivers learn where to slow down or not run yellow lights, and suddenly the funding dries up.

Though I resent the surveillance society we've become, hopefully more real surveillance of drivers can lead to violation notices for the real problems on the road. Like the driver who insists on going 35 in a 50 mile-per-hour zone at rush hour, creating a logjam of cars for a mile behind. Or for the driver speeding down the shoulder past a traffic jam. Or the driver in reverse on the shoulder because he missed his exit.

These are violations I see all the time. Hopefully a more sensible approach to enforcing rules of the road can someday be had.

Still, trying to push a police officer out of your way? That's never going to be a good idea.

 

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com


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