Would national speed limit work?

Saturday, October 9, 2010; 7:20 PM

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

For your and your readers' consideration, I am offering the following suggestion to drastically reduce (or in many cases completely resolve) our nation's transportation problems:

Mandate by law a country-wide speed limit of 50 mph and enforce it.

The benefits of such a law, beginning with energy conservation, road maintenance savings and protection of life and limb, are too numerous to list. In fact, I can think of no objection to this idea that makes any sense, given the conditions under which we travel and the problems we face now and in the future.

Years ago, an energy crisis produced the slogan "Fifty is thrifty." Yes, thrifty. But also, for so many other reasons, simply wonderful.

-Elizabeth A. Konig, Bethesda

Much as I support the goals of Konig's strategy, I'm afraid it wouldn't work. We've been there and done that. President Richard M. Nixon called for a national speed limit of 50 mph in response to the 1973 oil crisis. Congress passed a 55 mph speed limit.

People debated whether that had any impact on either conservation or safety, the energy crisis became a distant memory, and Congress finally repealed the last version of a national speed limit in the mid-1990s.

I'd love to see a lot more drivers slow down to the speed limit, but it won't help for the national government to set a speed limit that many drivers will ignore and local police can't enforce.

Transportation departments generally will try to peg the legal speed limit at or slightly below the rate at which 85 percent of people will drive. They consider other factors, such as road environment and the number of crashes in that zone.

Part of the idea, when it comes to enforcement, is to limit the number of drivers the police have to worry about.

If most drivers accept the speed limit as reasonable, and if that leaves the police with a reasonable number of people to catch breaking the limit, then we've got a workable traffic law. A national speed limit wouldn't accomplish that.

Speeding in work zones

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I applaud your answer to the woman who wrote that speed cameras should go dark when a work zone is inactive [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 19]. But, I think your answer was incomplete.

Speed cameras are triggered when a driver goes more than 12 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. A person who feels he or she should be able to drive that much over the speed limit with no consequence demonstrates a blatant disregard for law. Not just that law, all laws.

If you don't like the law, you should work to change it, not decide unilaterally that you will ignore it.

Think of the impact of everyone having the attitude that he or she need not follow laws they don't like.

-Jean Arthur, Silver Spring

So far, I haven't made it to the 85th percentile in positive responses to my defense of Maryland's work zone speed cameras. In fact, I'm well short of it, as you'll see in my column in Thursday's Local Living section.

He minds the gap

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In your column about different parking meter systems [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 16], Marty Scherr says, "D.C. should not set the size of parking spaces in the pay-by-space guidelines."

I strongly disagree. I have seen way too many instances where cars park eight or 10 feet from another parked car because spaces are not marked. This means that two cars take up three spaces. What are the laws regarding this situation?

I urge all jurisdictions to mark spaces on the street and avoid the above scenarios.

- Mike Marceau, Rockville

I know of many laws regulating parking distance from a curb or fire hydrant or street corner. I'm not aware of any that requires drivers to park within a certain distance of other cars on a street.

How might police enforce that?

Would they have to stake out the streets to make sure the gap didn't occur when one driver pulled out of a parking space between two other cars?

I think Scherr's goal was to encourage drivers to use smaller cars, so more vehicles could fit together on a block.

The District Department of Transportation should be making some decisions soon based on its experience with the various pilot programs for street parking.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and might be used in a column, along with the writer's name and home community. Personal responses are not always possible. To contact Dr. Gridlock by mail: Write to Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. By e-mail: drgridlock@washpost.com. On the Dr. Gridlock blog: blog.washingtonpost.com/drgridlock. On Twitter: drgridlock.

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