Time has value. Those of us in the manufacturing world are distinctly aware of this as we deal daily with production schedules, output, and cycle times. In the realm of lean manufacturing, time takes on an even more critical quality: the ability to produce exactly and only what is needed, when it is needed. Unfortunately the traditional world, and especially the skewed world of politics, is not as sensitive to time as we are.
Calls for a 55 mph speed limit — and for that matter most other
government energy conservation plans, such as urging people to ride a
bus or a bicycle rather than driving a car — reflect a mindset that
oil and gasoline are more valuable than human time.
Those of us who lived through the 70s remember the horrors of the 55 mph speed limit. Especially if you lived out west.
It didn’t seem possible that politicians could think
up a sillier energy proposal than Barack Obama’s windfall profits tax
on oil companies, but Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia has done
just that. Earlier this month, Mr. Warner suggested a return to
the federal 55-mile-per-hour speed limit on America’s highways, as a
way to save on national gasoline consumption.
Hey look at that: they called both parties silly in the same sentence! Fair and balanced…! Apparently the lessons of the first time this was tried have been forgotten. For one thing, it was simply disobeyed.
Mr. Warner may be willing to drive slower to save gas. The vast
majority of Americans surely are not. The original 55 mph speed-limit
law, enacted in October 1974 after the OPEC oil embargo as a way to
save energy, was probably the most despised and universally disobeyed
law in America since Prohibition. As an energy saving policy, the double nickel was a bust. The National
Motorists Association reports that about 95% of American drivers
regularly exceeded the federal speed limit. Does it make sense to
resurrect a law that 19 out of every 20 Americans disobeyed? In the 1970s and
’80s, the federal speed limit was a daily reminder of the intrusiveness
of nanny-state regulation.
Ah… but lower speeds are safer, right? Nope.
Mr. Warner repeats the myth that a lower federal speed limit will
increase traffic safety. Back in 1995, Naderite groups argued that
repealing the 55 mph limit would lead to "6,400 more deaths and
millions more injuries" each year. In reality, National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration data reveal that in the decade after speed limits
went up (1995-2005), traffic fatalities fell by 17%, injuries by 33%,
and crashes by 38%. The evidence is overwhelming that traffic safety is based less on how
fast the traffic is going than on the variability in speeds that people
are driving. The granny who drives 20 mph below the pace of traffic on
the freeway is often as much a safety menace as the 20-year-old hot
And the free market is already creating changes.
Retail gasoline stores report that Americans have already reduced their
gas purchases by about 5% this year — presumably by driving less and
buying more fuel-efficient cars. At $4.59 a gallon, motorists don’t
need to be lectured by politicians on the financial savings from
I’ve noticed that even LA traffic has been lighter the last few times I’ve had the misfortune to have to drive down that way. And the flow of tourists flocking to my one-light town on the cool California coast to escape the intense inland summer heat is also down… exactly how I like it.
What is in short supply — the only truly finite resource, as the late
economist Julian Simon taught us — is the time each of us spends on
this earth. And most of us don’t want to spend it sitting longer than
we have to in traffic.
It’s about time someone realized this.