Spain has reduced its speed limit, from 120 kmh to 110 (about 68 mph). So of course some are asking whether the U.S. should similarly put on the brakes.
It’s ’70s déjà vu: OPEC was throwing its cartel weight around, Nixon responded with wage and price controls, which led to long lines at gas stations. And, for the first time, the federal government cajoled states to reduce highway speed limits to 55 mph.
We still argue about the results. Freeway deaths went down, to hurrahs.
But, forced to travel 55 or thereabouts, more and more drivers opted to drive the secondary roads, roads less capable of handling increases in speed and congestion. Traffic fatalities there went up.
Most obviously, we saved gas but wasted time.
If you are narrowly focused on one thing — gasoline used, in toto — you are unlikely to care. But wasting people’s time comes with many social costs, from fewer hours spent with kids to more hours driven drowsily. So a number of deaths by speed were swapped for a number of deaths by fatigue.
Right now each of us can save gas — by driving less, or slower, or trading in the commuter car for a motorcycle. But each of these comes at a cost, with trade-offs ranging from lost productivity to what for some would be a net loss in safety.
Any attempt to force such trade-offs as policy warrants careful thought, a reasonable understanding of all the costs.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.