Deep In The Heart Of Texas, At 85 MPH

Texas is a big state. It’s not surprising that Texans value getting from one place to another without lollygagging.

The state made news recently when its Department of Transportation proposed to test part of a new toll road to see if motorists could safely take it at speeds up to 85 miles per hour. If approved, the 85 mph speed limit would be the first in the country.

Texas and Utah are the only states that currently have speed limits of 80 mph in some areas. But before 1974, and again between 1995 and 1999, Montana’s daytime speed limits were simply speeds that were “reasonable and prudent” – sometimes called the Basic Rule.

I learned to drive in Montana under the 55 mph limit, but the fine for speeding at the time was $5, and no driver’s license points were assessed for violations. In effect, the Basic Rule remained operational in Montana, even before it was reinstated officially in 1995. (The state’s speed limit is now 75 mph on suitable stretches of the interstates.)

In Florida today, the speed limit is 70 mph. When I drive the 275 miles between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Coast, on long, straight stretches of Interstate 95, I generally set the cruise control at around 79 or 80 mph. This speed puts me at about average; I pass some cars, and some cars pass me.

I have driven on the autostrade of Italy at 150 kph (about 93 mph). I’ve driven on the German autobahns, where the recommended speed is 130 kph (approximately 81 mph), though there is no official limit for cars. I’ve never seen anyone pulled over for speeding in either place.

However, in my experience, drivers on these European superhighways are diligent about following the rules of the road. American drivers are less disciplined. We pass on the right, we hog the left lane, and only some of us bother to signal when we change from one lane to another.

Incidentally, I am not arguing that Europeans in general are more careful drivers than Americans (though Germans might be). In Italy, drivers seem to save all their self-control for those high-speed autostrades. Chaos reigns on the streets of Rome and Naples, where the locals seem to regard traffic lights and one-way markers as merely advisory. But since traffic – except for the ever-present and ever-annoying squadrons of scooters – seldom moves faster than a crawl in town, the frequency and severity of bodily harm stays within tolerable limits.

I have no beef with the new 85 mph limit in Texas, but I do wonder how fast people will actually drive before getting a ticket. I also wonder whether Americans are prepared to teach ourselves to follow the rules that become more important at higher speeds.

When I learned to fly, I learned the importance of safety rules. In the air, you don’t ever ignore them. If there is a traffic controller, you ask him or her before you move your plane at all (even on the ground), and you do precisely what the controller tells you. If there is no controller, you always announce your position and listen carefully for the position of others. You then behave accordingly. As the saying goes, “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.”

Ignoring the rules gets people killed on the interstate, too. And that risk only increases as speeds increase.

Interstate construction began in the 1950s, and was largely finished by the 1970s. There is no reason why it has to take us as long to get from point A to point B as it did when the highways were first built. Cars today are much safer than in the ’50s. They brake better; they handle better; they have stability controls. Many cars come with built-in anti-collision devices: sensors that measure the distance between vehicles so that the brakes engage automatically when that distance grows too small, which can mean the difference between a fender-bender and a fatal crash.

Leaving aside questions of fuel economy – though cars are also much more fuel-efficient than they used to be – we can now afford to save time by increasing speeds. Time is valuable, and saving it is certainly a good thing. But with great automotive power comes great responsibility. If Americans want to reap the full benefit of the advances we’ve made in both cars and the roads they drive on, we will have to respect the rules that make high-speed travel safe.

About Larry M. Elkin 564 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

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