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Elite Driver License July 14, 2007

Posted by federalist in Government Regulation, Transportation.
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Frequent readers know that I don’t believe we should impose speed limits on divided roadways.  Europeans already have experience with highways that actually lack speed limits, or that effectively allow many drivers to speed with impugnity.

I have never heard a totally satisfactory explanation of why this can work in Europe but not in the United States.  Arguments against often dead-end with something like, “American drivers just aren’t as good as European drivers.”  Even if that is true, on average, I actually have a full-fledged plan for allowing speeding in the United States:  I call it my Elite Driver Licensing program.  Whereas:

  1. Not every person or car is capable of arbitrarily high speeds, and
  2. Not every person wants to speed, but
  3. Current speed limits are determined by the lowest common denominator – i.e., every driver is by law supposed to follow a speed that is considered safe for the most impaired driver in the most marginal vehicle, yet
  4. Modern highways and cars are designed for speeds that far exceed current limits, and
  5. There are people who are capable of both safely negotiating high speeds and also accepting the higher liability for accidents at those speeds.

Therefore we should provide an Elite Driver Licensing (EDL) program whereby individual drivers can speed if they prove that they are competent.  The EDL program could include more intensive and frequent testing than that required for regular licensing.  It could include medical and performance criteria.  And it could impose a fee that more than covers the cost of administration so that it is a source of income for the public.

The EDL could be administered by the federal government, which could then require that all federally-funded highways respect the terms of the EDL.  States could then adopt the EDL for local roads as they see fit.

The basic idea is that someone who coughs up a hefty licensing fee and insurance and proves they are sufficiently competent gets an Elite Driver License that allows them to speed with impugnity on divided highways, subject to the following constraints:

  1. Their car must be certified for a given speed also.  This is nothing new: Europeans post vehicle-specific speed limits as stickers on the back of all trucks and commercial vehicles.  Modern production cars have speed governors that prevent them from exceeding unsafe speeds based on the ratings of their tires, aerodynamics, and other components.
  2. They can still be arrested for “reckless driving,” which could include conditions like passing another vehicle at a relative speed of more than 30mph or speeding in a construction zone.

FAQ

I’m scared – isn’t speeding correlated with higher traffic fatalities?  Probably, but we don’t need to use speed as a surrogate for safety.  We’ve all seen the person so distracted or unaware of the rules of the road that they are a danger to themselves and everyone around them – even though they may be the slowest person on the road.  There are people competent to speed, and a modern divided highway with rules against reckless driving pretty much ensures that if there is an accident it will not involve oncoming traffic, pedestrians, or other bystanders.

Cars get worse mileage at higher speeds.  Shouldn’t we limit speeds to conserve oil?  Not before we restrict the right of people to drive large cars with more capacity than they need.  Speeders pay for their own gasoline, just like SUV drivers and those who drive 7-seat vans to work when they could just as easily commute on a motorcycle.  Right now we mostly let the market price determine how people burn oil.  That will always be the most straightforward way of controlling oil consumption.

How would highway police know if a speeder is licensed to speed?  The EDL could involve stickers or other visible signals.  But this is not a unique problem: How do police know who has a suspended license, whose registration is expired, who isn’t carrying insurance, or who is driving drunk?  They don’t.  Rather, if they see someone suspicious or dangerous they pull them over and check it out directly.

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