How many times have you driven down to Santa Barbara for some State Street celebrity-watching, gotten back on Highway 154 to North County, and been menaced by a tailgating speed demon in a hurry to get somewhere?
Sort of makes you want to do your celebrity-watching closer to home. High speeds and dangerous driving seem to be hallmarks of commuting on Highway 154. Whether it’s gamblers anxious to be separated from their money, or folks late for an appointment in the Santa Maria Valley, they can turn what is one of the most picturesque drives in California into an exercise in self-control, patience and self-preservation.
There is a slim chance things could get even more perilous for drivers. State Sen. John Moorlach is floating the notion of having speed limits removed from specific highways in California, creating America’s version of Germany’s Autobahn, every mile of which can produce moments of sheer terror for normal drivers.
Actually, slow drivers generally stay off the Autobahn, which a few years ago recorded its highest-ever, non-staged top speed of 236 mph. Think of the poor motorists whipping along at 70 mph having a Porsche scream by 160 mph faster. You’d barely get a glimpse of a car at that speed.
The speed-limit is trending upward across the nation. Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming already allow 80 mph on selected roads, and Texas has an 85-mph limit on one highway section.
Several years ago, when the limit on Interstate 10 in West Texas was bumped up to 80 mph, an oilman stopping for gas in Ft. Stockton was heard to say: “You mean I’m going to have to slow down?”
He was dead serious. Long stretches of ribbon-straight I-10 between Kerrville and El Paso virtually beg for putting the pedal to the metal, despite many warnings about speed being a sure killer.
The National Safety Council has data showing that in states with higher speed limits the traffic fatality rate goes up as well. It’s an immutable law of physics that the faster an object goes, the harder it is to make it stop, and when a speeding object hits something solid, the damage is far worse than it would be at more moderate speeds. Or as one expert puts it: “You can change speed limits, but you can’t change physics.”
A report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reckons 33,000 lives would have been saved if there had been no speed-limit increases between 1993 and 2013.
Such thoughts may occur to local residents as they are being tailgated by a fidgety motorist on Highway 154. The anxiety ramps up considerably when the tailgater decides to take a big risk and pass you on a blind curve along the Cachuma Lake stretch, ignoring signs, and crossing the prohibitive double line while doing so.
That state legislator’s proposal would add some high-speed lanes to Interstate 5 and Route 99, which is a state road up through California’s midsection. This comes, apparently, in lieu of the bullet-train scheme, which has fizzled.
And how often have you been tailgated, then passed by a speeder on 154, only to find yourself directly behind that person at the first stoplight? Which begs the question — what, exactly, is the big rush?
That is an important consideration when the outcome of being in a hurry could take one or more lives, even your own and those of your loved ones.
The best plan — slow down and live.