(last worked on: October 24th, 2018)
Fast find>> Change, Cars of the future, Aerodynamics, MPG, 35mph, British study,
our absurd transportation system

* One thing's for sure: our system of roads, speeds, the mutual infringement of pedestrians, pedal power, locomotives and other vehicular traffic --perhaps separated by painted white lines --is nuts.

Of cource, this is true world-wide. A UN World Health Organization study (cited in the September, 2017 issue of Discover magazine) pinned pinned the annual human toll at 1,250,000 killed, and populations of birds (alone) get reduced by 250.000,000 --! The single most important factor is speed.

* It's my expectation that overlaying our crumbling transportation infrastructure with "self driving" cars will prove to be a Donnybrook. From watching a Ford car commercial (5/22/2017) I gather that they already sell self parking cars and we're getting news reports about the first grisly accidents. I await drawn out court battles over who's responsible, findings that the (deep pockets) manufacturers are at fault, bigga recalls, and finally: handing the reigns and the liability back to human drivers.

* Update: An accumulation of accidents and deaths (as of 4/3/2018) brought the road testing of self-driving cars to a halt in several states. It turns out that these vehicles slavishly look at the painted white lines (ohdear). Most appalling was a Tesla-X crash: straight into a concrete divider, which resulted in an instant run-away shorting and flash ignition of the batteries --which incinerated the driver --while the fire department stood by, hesitant to direct water onto the burning car's carcass until Tesla engineers could come and disable its electrical circuits.

* It looks like a jobs program for lawyers now. The driver, a Tesla employed engineer, was said to have been given a dashboard warning^ a few seconds ahead of the crash --saying in effect: "You're on your own, Bucko!" --but he seems to have been thinking about something else at the time. (^That's debatable, since there was no "black box".)

So who gets the blame: the driver, the department of transportation who messed up the white lines, Tesla, or the federal transportation authorities who couldn't foresee --that sensors and computers are simply not up to the wary alertness it takes to navigate a vehicle, deal with the psychology of others on the road, to anticipate, to creatively, and even unconsciously avoid hazards?

And if the driver's attention isn't supposed to wander, then just what is the point of a self-driving car?

* Update: Ford had to recall 1.4 million cars this year (2018). Their steering wheels were coming loose --and some of them came completely off --at speed. Of course, when Ford starts fielding self-driving cars, we won't need no stinkin' steering wheels, right? (What could possibly go wrong?)

* Considering our unwillingness to maintain bridges and roadbeds, recalling the recent railway accidents in which engineers failed to slow down for curves, it's hard to imagine our (USA) culture operating European and Asian style "bullet" trains. However: why not simply run trains at modest speeds, such that derailments are not fatal?

* The single most effective factor in traffic safety is speed. How very cheap and simple it is to save lives and reduce injuries: reduce speed.

Since the kinetic energy of a collision is proportional to the square of miles per hour, an accident at 30mph is 4 times worse than at 15mph. At 45mph, it's (3 squared =) 9 times worse.

* Should you be enamored of "extreme sports", the "need for speed", the thrill of risk taking --then this page is probably not for you. It's a gentler crowd that I encourage to seek out and build alternative ("intentional", "gated"/CC&Rs) communities and lifestyles. I quite discourage vain attempts to impose the rather pastoral ideas which follow upon thrill/stimulous seeking mainstream Americans.)

Your feedback to: craig er oochi  a t  outlook dotty com (Hopefully, that's bot proof.)

Let's start with some extreme "counter-culture" notions.

* Travel, change, "growth" and even "progress" -- are not inherently "good things". This is a hard argument to make, since we live in a culture/society that's so desperately in need of fundamental changes.

Glimmerings of such understanding are among us. Recall the familiar: "happiness is in your own back yard", along with the old fashioned admonition against "change for change sake". (Yes: we all feel needs, both practical and recreational, to venture some distance away from home. We're talking matters of degree and range --of course.)

* Perhaps the first argument I hear against drastically reducing our speed limits is: "we don't have the highway capacity". However, being mindful of those public service announcements that we should count a second's worth of travel between vehicles (or a car length between for each 10mph --about the same), a capacity of something like 86% as many cars should pass a given point along a highway at (say) 30mph as at 60mph. (The math here is for 16 foot long cars.)

* Dissent #2 (and maybe #1) is: "it would take twice as long to get there". However: that there "there" --the destination, is pretty arbitrary, is it not? So just why did you decide to build and drive to your cabin on "the lake" for the weekend --instead of somewhere (say) nearer to Canada? Answer: you picked a nice destination that was do-able --at 60/whatever MPH. But then: why not 120mph? With more investment in highways, vehicles and fuel, is that so unreasonable? Would Canada then be reachable from your home?

Obviously, if it had been a "given" (and accepted) that the highway speed limit is (say) 35mph^, then you'd have simply built a cabin on a lake that was nearer to home --and maybe commuted to work for a company at about half the distance you now travel, plus: you'd stand a much better chance of driving to those destinations and living to a ripe old age --with lower life and car insurance premiums along the way. (I'm originally from Minnesota, which has lakes, lakes, lakes, everywhere.)

The Car of the Future

General Motors' futurecasters at the 1939 World's Fair thought that super highways and 100mph would be routine by the 1960s.

Contrast that with the Panama-California International Exposition of 1915-16, which introduced Clyde Osborn's "Electriquettes":

--pleasant little wicker carts which piddled along and ever so safely at 3 MPH.

Two rows of similar vehicles from archival stock, used in an old video to
represent 1929 --just before the stock market crash.

Let's look at a statistically valid reality check: speed versus fatalities. The following tables come from a British study: the "Relationship between Speed and Risk of Fatal Injury: Pedestrians and Car Occupants", by the Transport Research Laboratory, London, using data sets gathered between years 2000 and 2010. (Copyright: The Crown --accurate, attributed, non-commercial use okay.)

The dashed lines enclose a range, within which there's 95% statistical confidence.

The net change in vehicular velocity at the instance of the collision
("30mph" could represent a head-on crash between two identical cars, each traveling at 30mph.)

* There are, of course, natural/physical speed limits --like the sound barrier :-) We can run and easily bicycle at 15mph, maybe sprint closer to 20mph. If this was the limit for most urban driving, bicycles could keep up, while pedestrians, stray children and pets would stand a better chance of survival.

So what's the furslugginer hurry?

Below 50mph, the profile and streamlining of a vehicle is much less important, so boxy, slower vehicles could be designed for comfort (shoulder/hip room, luggage capacity, rain shedding visors over the windows), as well as having more usable interior volume and engine accessibility, due to needing a much smaller engine and radiator. (Perhaps you could pull an engine block by hand.)

* At "parkway speed" (35mph^ and below), air flow over a car ceases to be so turbulent. Open your windows. Listen to nature's birds and crickets. (Hey: try that sometime. It's very pleasant on a warm summer evening.)

At 35mph and below, wild creatures stand a fair chance of getting out of the way, so road kill goes way down --and ain't that nice.

* Not only could engines be significantly smaller at modest speeds, the whole drive train, wheels, tires, and chassis weight gets sharply reduced, so cars become more affordable to build and to purchase.

^** Surprise(!) --it's already been done! In May of 1942 a national speed limit of 35 MPH was decreed in support of the war effort to conserve tire rubber and gasoline. The State of Utah kept track of the results: auto accidents decreased by 35%, traffic deaths were cut in half, and this was despite a 5% increase of vehicles on their roads and highways over the same period of time (1941 to 1943).

** And I've somehow gotten this far along without mentioning fuel/battery economy! Fuel consumption goes down with speed, and the more so if a car is designed for the targeted speed range, since it also goes down with reduced vehicle weight (a factor which dominates at speeds below 50 MPH).

More "car talk" *here*.

^^ Portraits of American Presidents - copyright NBC News/Questar - 1992