$3 per gallon begins to take the joy out of driving. But even worse are the new “abuser fees” several states have passed into law that crucify drivers over relatively trivial motor vehicle infractions.
In Virginia, for example, you can be hit with a $1,050 “civil remedial fee” for driving faster than 20 mph over the posted limit. Advocates of these “fees” make a big stink about dangerous driving and teaching people a lesson - but the fact of the matter is that speed limits are notoriously under-posted. Does 76 in a 55 zone strike you as horribly negligent? And even if you think that 20 over is excessive, the way Virginia’s law is written, even “little tickets” for lesser transgressions can quickly stack up to a level that triggers similar “abuser fees.” Two or three tickets for things like ordinary speeding at 5-10 mph over the limit, for instance - or anything else in the code that qualifies as a “moving violation” with DMV “points” attached to it - raises your fee potential. Once you’re up to 8 DMV “points” you get hit with the “fees” - which can deplete your wallet as effectively as $70 per tank full-ups.
It’s a similar story in NJ - and perhaps soon, other states as well. The prospect of a new revenue stream that can be tapped without resorting to the politically more dangerous expedient of a general tax hike is as seductive to state lawmakers as a bag full of unmarked bills left by the doorstep.
Add to the mix radar and red light cameras, which together could erect a fully automated grid of Total Enforcement capable of nailing each and every one of use for each and every traffic violation - no matter how pedantic or petty - and you get a peek at the Brave New World we’re erecting.
This is the reality of the modern driving world. It’s become a minefield of fines and fees and surcharges and hassle. You’re more likely to see the inside of a cell for driving a little exuberantly than you are for jacking a 7-11.
And yet, at the very same time, we’re presented with 400 and 500 horsepower vehicles capable of shredding every statute in the book if driven at even half their built-in capability. Ordinary family cars like the Toyota Camry are now pushing 300 horsepower and can easily top 130 mph. Yet the fastest allowable speed in the entire country is 80 mph - in a few isolated corners of Texas. Most everywhere else, 65 or maybe 70-something is as far as the leash extends. Over 80 in states like Virginia is presumptive “reckless driving” and a mandatory court appearance.
Better have a good lawyer. And a thick wad to pay for it all.
New cars that can reach 60 mph in less than 7 seconds are pretty commonplace, too. This is roughly twice as quick as the average car of the ’70s. But just see what happens if you demonstrate that athleticism in sight of a Johnny. Is there anything more absurd than gimping along at a gentle, lawful pace in a machine with race-track levels of acceleration and cornering ability? What’s the point?
We can’t use these things - so why do we torture ourselves by entertaining the fantasy that we can?
It’s like dating a supermodel you can’t ever touch. (Or one with AIDs that you dare not try to touch.)
I love high-performance machinery, but I’m well aware of the consequences of driving in a high-performance manner. Every trip to the land of the triple digits (no matter how fleeting) runs the risk of a life-altering experience. If there happens to be a cop hiding up ahead or coming at you the other way when you’re exploring the performance envelope of your new Corvette Z06 or Mitsubishi Evo, you’ve just bought yourself the kind of trouble few who don’t actually thrust guns into people’s ribs will ever experience. Thousands in fines and lawyer bills and insurance surcharges. A revoked or suspended license. And it will go on for years, until the whole thing eventually drops off your permanent record.
It takes the edge off the fun real quick.
Even worse, though, is the way this creeping Kudzu of over-strict laws and over-the-top consequences is taking the joy out of almost any kind of driving that’s a notch above the enfeebled maximums set forth by Code. Because under-posted speed limits are so commonplace, for example, virtually all of us routinely exceed the posted speed limit. We weighed the potential of a minor speeding ticket against a more efficient (and enjoyable) pace - and chose to run the risk.
But under the new regime of “abuser fees” and so on, even 5 or 10 over becomes an unacceptable risk. We’re compelled to plod on toothlessly at exactly the lawful maximum, the 300 or 400 horsepower engine under the hood working at perhaps a third of its capacity.
We drive on $300 a piece low-aspect-ratio, speed-rated tires with compounds designed for high lateral G loads that dare not express themselves on a decreasing radius off-ramp for fear of who might be watching - camera or cop - ticket book at the ready.
New cars have never been more capable - or more useless.
I wonder when we’ll come out of our coma and admit the ugly truth to ourselves.
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