Years ago my wife was driving a sports car across a boring stretch of Texas when I fell asleep riding shotgun. I woke to find that she had put pedal to the metal and was going 115 miles per hour. "Slow down!" I screamed as telephone poles, cows and visions of my life flashed before my eyes.
As it turns out, my wife was a woman ahead of her time. Texas now holds the record for the top speed limit allowed by law. Its transportation commission approved an 85 mph speed limit for a 41-mile stretch of highway between the state capital of Austin and the home of the Alamo, San Antonio.
And since most of us drive at least 10 miles over the speed limit -- until the radar cop spills the coffee out the window and engages in hot pursuit -- the needle on the speedometer of a lot of cars in that part of Texas will now point to the century mark.
'Fast and furious'
There are those who said that 55 mph was fast enough. During the gas crisis of the 1970s, the "national speed limit" dropped to a double nickel -- and death and serious accident rates declined. When President Reagan got behind the wheel in the 1980s, the 55 mph limit disappeared and we were free to step on it. Speed limits, once again set by each state, increased.
But, contrary to expectations, deaths from auto accidents didn't go up; they actually went down. Cars were being built safer, seat belt laws and air bags had become mandatory, radial tires hugged the road and driver cages were reinforced to withstand rollovers. This only made the fast and the furious want to push the limits even further.
Cashing in on speed
Somewhere at the top of the speedometer there's a limit to driver performance and it seems that Texas is determined to find it. Bear in mind that this is a state in which a quarter of its residents have no health insurance, so if they do get into a serious accident, and also lack Personal Injury Protection coverage, the cost could prove disastrous.
Remember, too, that the purpose of this higher speed limit is to make money. The 85-mph stretch is on a toll road where it will cost you up to 30 cents a mile, or about $12, for the whole ride. And with many drivers likely to pay the toll just to see how fast they can go, Texas is poised to cash in.
Beltway bumper car
That could lead to what USA Today describes as an "arms race" among states to build the nation's fastest toll roads, particularly as federal highway funds sink.
So will your car insurance rates rise if you live in a state that decides to build a pay-as-you-go racetrack? Hard to say.
Texas, along with Utah, already has the highest speed limit of 80 mph, but doesn't have the worst drivers in the country. Nor do Texans pay the highest auto insurance rates. That distinction belongs to Louisiana. Since car insurance rates are set on the basis of years of statistics, it will take awhile before rates catch up with speeds.
'Death Race 2012'
But the Texas toll road reminds me that those who can afford it can get away with speeding. In my home state of New Jersey, two state troopers face criminal charges for leading "Death Race 2012": a parade of rich guys in exotic cars, with their license plates taped over, who wove in and out of traffic at more than 100 mph on the Garden State Parkway in March.
I should also point out that bad driving habits, like texting or talking on cell phones, won't stop with higher speed limits. So don't be surprised if the last text you get from a friend in the Lone Star State reads: "Going 100 on this here highway and. . . ."