80 on the Interstate Shows Legislature Not Pro-LIfe

Speed Limit 80To keep legislators and constituents from noticing that they replaced the 10% increase in license plate fees to 20%, House State Affairs Monday amended Senate Bill 1, the big transportation bill, to include the “best idea to come out of session“: a 6.7% increase in the Interstate speed limit.

“Best idea”? Sure, if (a) you’re a legislator obsessed with getting home from Pierre faster, or (b) you like more highway deaths:

The jump in Kansas highway deaths since the speed limit was raised mirrors what studies have revealed elsewhere, said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“Higher fatalities is what we would expect,” Rader said. “This is moving in the direction that study after study shows is the result of raising the speed limit.”

For example, a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health attributed spikes in highway death rates to increases in the speed limit. The study found a 3.2 percent increase in all road deaths attributable to higher speed limits following the 1995 repeal of the federal speed limit.

The biggest increases in highway fatalities were on rural interstates compared with urban highways. The study blamed 12,545 deaths and 36,583 injuries from 1995 to 2005 on increased speed limits.

When speeds are higher, drivers have less margin for error to deal with an emergency such as less reaction time and greater stopping distances. And crashes that occur at higher speeds tend to be more severe.

“Raising speed limits always gets people to their destinations faster, but there’s always a cost,” Rader said [Brad Cooper, “Fatal Crashes Spike on Kansas Highways After Speed Limit Climbs to 75 MPH,” Wichita Eagle, 2014.12.25].

Oh, I get it! If we kill off more motorists, we won’t have as many people left to drive on the roads, and our road maintenance costs will go down.

Back in the 1990s, Israel increased its speed limit on interurban highways (from 90 kph to 100 kph—55.9 to 62.1 mph) alongside safety measures—improving roads, requiring rear seat belts, and requiring daytime running lights. Over a six-year period, road improvements appear to have reduced crashes and injuries, but more motorists died, and the increased speed limits were responsible for one out of ten highway fatalities.

Researchers have demonstrated that lower travel speeds and death tolls usually follow lowered speed limits,2,3 and higher travel speeds and higher death tolls follow increased speed limits (4,5,6,7,8,9,10). Recent data demonstrate a 17% rise in deaths following a 4% rise in speeds on US Interstates (11). High‐speed driving on highways induces speed adaptation, on connecting interurban roads, and even urban roads. This so‐called “spillover effect” may persist indefinitely (12,13) [Lee S. Friedman, Paul Barach, and  Elihu D. Richter, “Raised Speed Limits, Case Fatality and Road Deaths: A Six Year Follow‐Up Using Arima Models,” Injury Prevention, June 2007, pp. 156–161].

Friedman and Richter joined Donald Hedeker to conduct similar research on the U.S. speed limit increase. From 1995 to 2005, just like in Israel, more Americans died because of the higher speed limit. The highest death rate was on rural roads like South Dakota’s:

We found a 3.2% increase in road fatalities attributable to the raised speed limits on all road types in the United States. The highest increases were on rural interstates (9.1%) and urban interstates (4.0%). We estimated that 12 545 deaths (95% confidence interval [CI] = 8739, 16 352) and 36 583 injuries in fatal crashes (95% CI = 29 322, 43 844) were attributable to increases in speed limits across the United States [Lee S. Friedman, Donald Hedeker, and Elihu D. Richter, “Long-Term Effects of Repealing the National Maximum Speed Limit in the United States,” American Journal of Public Health, December 2009, pp. 1626–1631].

1,250 extra deaths a year, because the Rapid City delegation wants to get home from Pierre 15 minutes sooner. You betcha.

The Iowa Department of Transportation compared the average yearly fatality rates in five Midwestern states that raised their speed limits above 65 in 1995 (including South Dakota) with three Midwestern states stuck with 65. South Dakota and its sister speeder states saw a net 9% increase in annual highway fatalities; the three Pokey Joes saw a net decrease of 7%.

Table 1
Traffic Fatalities in States That Increased Their Speed Limits Above 65 mph
Before: 1988-1995; After: 1997-2004

8-Year Average, Before Change 8-Year Average, After Change Total Change in Fatalities (Number) Average Difference (Number) Percent Difference
Kansas 433 488 441 55 + 11%
Minnesota 576 618 337 42 + 7%
Missouri 1049 1160 887 111 + 10%
Nebraska 266 286 162 20 + 7%
South Dakota 151 173 179 22 + 13%
Total Average Percentage Difference + 9%

Table 2
Traffic Fatalities in States That Did Not Increase Their Speed Limits Above 65 MPH
Before: 1988-1995; After: 1997-2004

8-Year Average, Before Change 8-Year Average, After Change Total Change in Fatalities (Number) Average Difference (Number) Percent Difference
Illinois 1567 1414 -1229 -154 -11%
Iowa 491 442 -390 -49 -11%
Wisconsin 752 774 176 22 3%
Total Average Percentage Difference -7%

The numbers seem to confirm common sense: increase speed limits, increase speeds, increase deaths.

But South Dakota’s pro-life legislators are so rankled at having to pay more fees and taxes to pay for our roads that they demand more indulgence for their lead feet. So we’ll drive faster, and more people will die.


60 Responses to 80 on the Interstate Shows Legislature Not Pro-LIfe

  1. I think it is fairly common knowledge that higher speeds increases the chances of deaths, just as a lack of a helmet law increases the probability that a motorcyclist will die if involved in a collision. If we were ONLY concerned with the number of deaths, we would lower all Interstate speed limits to 35mph, mandate kevlar reinforced jackets, full length riding pants, and full face helmets for anyone riding on a motorcycle, require five point safety harnesses and roll cages in all vehicles etc. etc.

    Truth is – and this isn’t a popular statement albeit factual – there is a lot more to the story than simply how many humans die and that is but one of the factors. Truth is, many if not most of the highway deaths we see are still a result of people failing to buckle up or those who aren’t wearing helmets. When someone is thrown from the car or slams into the pavement after an accident they tend to die. Increased speeds simply amplify that effect, but the true impact to anyone who does buckle up or those who are wearing helmets is minimal.

    Second, there is the economic factor. When Mike and Sally take their kids on vacation, it probably doesn’t matter if they save 20 minutes on their trip to see Crazy Horse. However for some transportation companies, businesses, or select individuals – time is money, and that extra 20 minutes can be measured via economic growth. When you have a truckload of inventory that can reach a destination faster it may lower costs. When you have a carload of consultants or lawyers or researchers heading to Sioux Falls where their collective billable hourly rate is $1400, an extra 10 minutes (x 5 passengers) directly impacts their bottom line.

    In other cases some companies (trucking companies for instance) will calculate the increased cost of fuel and decide it isn’t enough to justify driving faster, and they will limit their drivers to a specific speed (many already do). However the point is this is a decision each person or company needs to make, and although it might not be as exciting as speaking about the number of deaths, the economic factor is much larger than we realize.

    Most vehicles are less efficient at greater speeds, so it will result in more fuel being used and in theory might increase some fuel tax revenues, but I doubt that has anything to do with the proposal. Truth is, people just like to get where they are going as fast as they can, and in the middle of South Dakota there isn’t many good reasons to take it slow unless you really love the look of prairie grass or signs leading you to Wall Drug.

    Above all however it is important to understand whatever the limit it is merely a maximum allowed by law. There is nothing preventing someone from driving 65 on the Interstate if they feel that is the proper balance between speed and safety, and if they want to take it a step further they can always take the back highways where speeds are maxed out at 55. However – per miles driven, there a lot more highway fatalities on those back roads than there are on the Interstates… so once again speed doesn’t always tell the whole story.

  2. mike from iowa

    I thought Wall Drug signs were illegal.

  3. Craig’s attempt at reduction to 35 mph absurdity is irrelevant. Based on our own experience, the extra tension and nervousness resulting from higher speed driving means that once you get to where you are going, you will waste more time recovering from the driving than you saved from the higher speeds.

    Highway engineering means roads and highways are designed for limited design speeds. Higher speeds require more expensive highways, signing, etc.

    It might make sense on the interstates to allow 80mph when passing just as an increase on 2-lane roads for passing may make sense. I suspect the risk from short speed increases that make for more rapid separation from other vehicles is more than made up by the extra separation.

    Driving 200 miles at 80 versus 75 saves about 10 minutes. That is not even enough to pull off to a restroom and return to the highway. It is insignificant.

    And some of us might think that if a carload of 5 over-paid lawyers or consultants crash, that SD might be a better place after all.

  4. “extra tension and nervousness resulting from higher speed driving…”

    If “higher speed driving” scares you – please do us all a favor and take the bus.

  5. My son, a cop, was sure against it.

  6. I agree with Craig. Here is a video that debunks the increased speed limits are a danger to society theory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BKdbxX1pDw

    It is a bit long but entertaining and informative.

  7. Douglas Wiken

    High speed driving does not scare me, but unless you are a complete idiot, it requires more attention and quicker responses. It is a bit like sitting on the edge of a chair waiting for an explosion. In an emergency, it may be required, but simple planning and careful driving should be the norm. Speeding is seldom necessary…even if a cop or patrolman is driving.

    The actual problem with speeding records is that if inspection at a crash site can’t establish any other factors, the enforcement people will write down “speeding” as a cause. A whole lot of crash records were flawed because drunken driving was ignored. It is no longer ignored…I hope.

    Drunken driving is a much more serious danger than a few extra miles per hour on a speed limit. An 80mph limit on the interstate should be a daytime limit only. Nighttime limit should probably be reduced to 70.

  8. mike from iowa

    Life isn’t short enough? What can you accomplish dead that you can’t accomplish better alive? (besides rest)

  9. On Eron’s video: begins with “My name is Chris.” Hmm… how do I check that source?

  10. The argument in the video seems to hinge on the idea that we should accept people’s judgment of how fast they want to go rather than obeying the law. (But here I am having to sit through a 14-minute video instead of being able to scan and reference nice text….)

    Much of the video argument seems to continge on the question of the optimal engineered speed for the road and speed limits that have been set artificially low. Is 75 (or 65? or 55?) artifically low for the U.S. Interstate Highway system?

  11. Craig, indeed, time is money. I can certainly see the argument that saving me five minutes every day over a full work year adds up to valuable time. (Let’s see: 250 work days @ 5 min… 1,250 minutes, about half a work week, @ $25/hr = $520 in savings. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of trucks, and we’re talking real money (productivity, quality of life, pick your metric).

    Now, can we also factor in the increased fuel usage? And are there other wear-and-tear costs, on vehicles and road surface, that we need to factor into a complete economic analysis?

  12. Here’s an idea … leave 5 mins earlier, arrive safely, and save yourself and the other motorists sharing the road the additional stress your excessive speed creates.

  13. Roger Cornelius

    For a number of years I commuted from Rapid City to Newell for work, a trip that was a little over 50 miles each way.
    After awhile a pattern developed where the same cars and drivers were all going to Sturgis and Ft. Meade for work.
    I’d get on I-80, set my cruise control to 65 and let my Buick do the work, drivers would pass me at high rates of speed as they rushed to work for their first cup of coffee.
    Ironically, as I would approach a stop light in downtown Sturgis there would be the same drivers that passed me sitting at the stop light. I don’t how much time they gained by speeding around me or why they would want to put their lives in jeopardy.
    During the winter months of commuting with all the snow and ice, I would lumber along on snow packed highways, there were often cars and trucks in the meridian or on the side of the road stuck.
    Sometimes they would be the vehicles of the drivers that passed me earlier and mostly if not all the time the vehicles stuck would be 4Wheel drives and SUV’s, you know how invincible those vehicles are.

  14. Cory:

    And are there other wear-and-tear costs, on vehicles and road surface, that we need to factor into a complete economic analysis?

    Possibly – but calculating the additional wear and tear based upon a 5mph increase would be a challenge, especially when the vast majority of damage to our roadways is due to heavy trucks that will most likely never travel at those speeds anyway. Even driving at 75mph I cannot recall the last time I was passed by a tractor-trailer… seems most of the independent operators and trucking firms have figured out the sweet spot is somewhere around 65mph. In fact I’ve heard of truckers where their company trucks are electronically speed limited so even if we raise the limit to 100mph those trucks will still be driving along at 60-65.

    I always get a kick out of these discussions though. I remember when the Interstates were raised to 75 – the old timers thought that was way too fast and I heard all these stories about how there would be mass chaos. Now here we are talking about 80 but the story hasn’t changed – some think it will be fine, others predict blood flowing down the median.

    Thing is – if we really cared about the number of deaths from driving, we could do far better than caring about the speed limit. Mandatory driver’s education programs, vehicle safety inspections, and higher fines / harsher sentences for drunk driving, dangerous driving, or distracted driving (aka texting or reading the newspaper while driving) would go much further.

    At the end of the day… a 5mph difference in speed is trivial. With advanced technologies like automatic breaking, adaptive cruise control, lane drift monitoring, steering assistance, and the entirely self-driving cars that are only a few years away the actual speed might not matter once computers take the poor decision making away from inattentive drivers.

    I’m just waiting to see how those self-driving cars handle a snow covered road or some black ice.

  15. Deb Geelsdottir

    Craig said, “I’m just waiting to see how those self-driving cars handle a snow covered road or some black ice.”

    They already do, and better than many human drivers. That’s what ABS and similar systems do. They are designed to keep the car on the road.

  16. horsefeathers. The interstate design factor is for sustained speeds of 85 mph. Anything less is wasteful or a result of deteriorating conditions (weather, congestion, vehicle capability, etc.). The way to keep drivers safer is to adopt laws like they have in Germany – limit the speeds of large trucks to 65 and require speed governors on them and electronic logs, left lane only for passing, no seatbelt – then the insurance company can cancel coverage even after an accident (it’s called personal responsibility and a consequence), etc. I commuted 54 miles one-way primarily on autobahn and routinely drove my Honda Accord Coupe at 120 mph on a not-so-rural autobahn. If you feel unsafe then: 1) stay off the interstate; and 2) consider staying in bed and pulling the covers over your head.

  17. I thought it was just a Republican attempt to help Kristi NOem get fewer speeding tickets!

  18. My friend Mr. C does a good job pointing out that slow and steady wins the day. Even back in my day it always did.

  19. Isn’t a tad hypocritical that folks rush to grab scientific analysis concerning speed and accident statistics while IGNORING scientific analysis concerning the 99.8% of all road damage that is caused by heavy vehicles. Instead they support raising license and registration for light vehicles which grossly subsidizes the exponential road damage caused by and almost alone is the responsibility of heavy trucks.
    http://www.vabike.org/vehicle-weight-and-road-damage/

  20. amen brother john

  21. i may have been too quick to agree w/all of john’s stuff, just the 99%. 120mph end over enders must be spectacular.

    i suggest 20 year olds can drive 120, 25 year olds can drive 115, 30 year olds can drive 110, 35 year olds can drive 105, 40 year olds can drive 100, 45 year olds can drive 95, 45 year olds can drive 90, 50 year olds can drive 85, 55 year olds can drive 80, 60 year olds can drive 75, 65 year olds can drive 70, 70 year olds can drive 65, 75 year olds can drive 60, 80 year olds can drive 55 and 85 year olds can drive 50.

    trucks and lawyers and doctors and politicians can pass anyone any time at any speed regardless of age because-economic development!

  22. Curtis Loesch

    the typical urge of south dakota republicans…in a hurry to get nowhere faster.

  23. David Bergan

    Driverless cars can’t get here fast enough

  24. All these youngins in a hurry! I’ll just keep driving my usual legal minimum highway speed 45-50 mpg getting that optimum gas mileage, less wear and tear on my car and increased reaction time in case something happens. I can relax, enjoy the scenery and listen to some good programs on SDPB, MPR or good music while driving safe.

  25. oops! I meant 45-50 mph.

  26. bearcreekbat

    Reality check – don’t many drivers believe they can drive from 5 to 10 miles over the posted limit and still avoid a ticket? This would mean that we can expect more traffic at 85 to 90 mph.

    When I was younger I thought I liked to drive fast. As I got older, I learned Roger C’s lesson, driving fast did not usually get me there any faster, as I too found that drivers I passed caught up with me at a stoplight or at a small logjam of traffic on the highway.

    As I began to slow down, I found myself doing the same thing – I too would catch up with most of the cars that had passed me earlier. But I found another fascinating experience – driving became pleasurable. I know longer sat on the edge of my seat preparing to slow if I saw a police car or if a deer jumped out in front of me. Instead, I became comfortable by giving myself both time and space to react to whatever I came upon.

    One last point troubles me. Craig’s suggestion that “There is nothing preventing someone from driving 65 on the Interstate if they feel that is the proper balance between speed and safety,” overlooks the danger of being approached from behind by someone driving 85 or 90 mph. To them, I am a traffic hazard, and someone they have to avoid hitting from behind. To me, these drivers are on the edge of being out of control and are a real danger.

  27. Deb Geelsdottir

    BCB brings up a good point. Will the minimum speed also be raised?

  28. I agree with Douglas Wiken on an earlier comment. Our highways were designed with a speed limit. Our Interstate although modeled after the Autobahn in Germany is not the same.

    Plus there are cars here in the US and especially here in South Dakota that are not built for high speed handling. Some of those cars are either built for comfort being nice, cushy and float down the road which compromising handling in an emergency situation. Some cars are more economy oriented.

    Then you have these drivers in their all-wheel drive cross over vehicles, sport utility vehicles, 4 wheel drive pickups thinking they can drive now 85 mph with the 5 mph tolerance limit in rain, snow or icy road conditions.

    Add 18 wheelers lacking sleep and in a hurry to make time, impaired, under the influence or distracted drivers with an increase in the speed limit and the physics of a high speed crash even with today’s enhanced safety on cars and we are asking for trouble.

  29. mike from iowa

    bcb-wasn’t the emergency law signed by Nixon to lower speed limits an executive order? The story going around,as I remember,was the world was running out of oil and we needed to conserve,but in reality it was an OPEC embargo against the US for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war.

  30. MFI, I remember that during the oil crisis in 1973 and shortly afterwards and for quite a while the local car dealerships lots were full with these big V8 sedans and station wagons that were like land cruisers(Not Toyota Landcruiser). Those dealerships were stuck with them for a long time with some cars sitting with flat tires. They were big Chryslers. Mercurys, Olds, Cadillacs all nice newer cars but no one could afford to drive or own them with gas prices so high and how they guzzled gas.

  31. bearcreekbat

    mfi – I believe you are correct about Nixon and the 55 mph speed limit. Although the oil crisis triggered the new law, the new speed limit numbers were based upon what was believed to be the most fuel efficient speeds for cars, buses and trucks.

  32. David, I’m curious: what speed will driverless cars go… and how easy will it be for users to override any programmed limits?

  33. David Bergan

    the Audi prototype, the so-called RS7 which has a horsepower of 560, reached speeds of almost 240kph (150mph) when tested on Formula One’s Hockenheim track.

    I don’t think you can override the speed, because these cars won’t have steering wheels or gas pedals. They’ll also be continually gps tracked, so the server could detect if the car is speeding and shut it down.

    Here’s a good lecture on the just how much of a game changer autonomous cars will be and a plea for our governments to start planning for them. We’re only 2-10 years away.

    https://youtu.be/IFIzO0AcJYo

  34. David Bergan

    video of an Audi driving on US highways at 70mph

    https://youtu.be/NiiGmji0bFk

    Here’s that other Audi going 150 on a racetrack. Made all 14 turns optimally. Heavy braking for the hairpin. Took the best driving line. No human in the car. Gives me goosebumps.

    https://youtu.be/Ol3g7i64RAI

  35. David,

    My first choice would be high speed rail and then Amtrak for travel if routes were available. The driverless cars would be great to relax in but it wouldn’t be fun if there was a software glitch or the system was hacked and the car I’m riding in turns into a crashfest video game on the other end of someone’s computer.

  36. David Bergan

    Hi Lynn,

    Sure, those technologies are great, and all modes of transportation will have risk. But as long as autonomous cars have fewer accidents than human-driven cars, which would you choose? As of right now, Google’s fleet has driven 700,000 miles on US roads without an accident.

  37. Larry

    That’s pretty cool! When I was younger my parents and our family took one of the last trains of the Amtrak Hiawatha from Jamestown ND to Seattle. We rode in the old steam powered 1940’s cars which were great and Amtrak was just testing out the new Superliners. That was the best trip and the food on the dining car was excellent and very reasonably priced. The service was excellent and the view was incredible! It’s nice to be able to walk around, explore and meet interesting people along the way.

    I’d love to take my mother on a trip on one of the many routes and stay in a sleeper.

    Those trains were full then as they are now. Wish we had a system like in Europe.

  38. Driverless cars: 90% drop in crashes, $180 billion annual savings just on repairs to cars and humans? And I can read and blog the whole way to Rapid City and nap the whole way home? Hook me up! Who needs to go 80 when you can slow down, let Google do the driving, and enjoy a longer nap?

  39. David Bergan

    As mentioned in one of those videos… If autonomous cars are just-as-safe or safer than rail travel… how could we justify a $20 million rail project? I mean it doesn’t make sense today given that you won’t get but 10 years or so of use out of it.

    As good as rail systems are, they won’t come straight to your driveway like an autonomous car would. You still need some kind of car to get to the rail station. You need a ticket. You need to be on time. You need a car at your destination. Your bags have to be screened for bombs.

    If you simply summoned an autonomous car to drive you to the Grand Canyon, you have none of that. Pack as much as you want. Leave in the middle of the night. Sleep the journey and wake up for sunrise at Yavapai Point. Heck, the windows could even be blacked out for privacy or sleeping.

    They even wondered if the domestic airline industry would crash because of the cost savings and convenience of autonomous cars. No TSA. No layovers…

    What can we do to make SD more ready for this technology?

  40. Deb Geelsdottir

    David, trains will remain necessary for all the people who don’t own cars. In fact, in cities more people who can afford cars choose not to buy them because it’s not that tough to manage well without them. I’m talking about people in their 20s and 30s.

    I’ve considered selling my car. I’d save at least $400 per month. (I live in St. Paul, MN.) Trains and buses run frequently. There are dedicated bike lanes and bike racks everywhere. There are many racks of rental bikes too. Plus there are 2 rental car services. I’d pay an annual fee to join and then a small charge for the car. I pick it up where it’s parked, drive it to the grocery store, etc., then leave it at the curb. There is also Uber and Lyft, plus taxis and friends.

    When I want to drive back to SD to visit my loved ones I’ll rent a car from Budget or one of the other companies.

    Even if I spent $200 per month on transit, I’d still be more than $2000 ahead at the end of the car-free year. Which makes me wonder – What am I waiting for?!

    *David, I know my solutions in StP won’t work for people in rural areas. MN is struggling with that: How to keep up with urban transit needs while not forgetting out state?

  41. David Bergan

    Hi Deb,

    I agree. Current predictions are that car ownership would dwindle with autonomous cars.

    Taxis get a lot cheaper when you have no taxi driver. Companies would pop up that own a fleet of cars and users buy a monthly subscription to summon one of them at will from their smartphone app. These cars don’t need to park by your work/restaurant/home… they drop you off and then roam the streets (or return to the company stable) waiting for someone else to summon one. Thus… we no longer have issues with downtown parking and I could remodel my garage into a rec room.

    It’s extremely more efficient than the status quo, where every adult owns a car that sits uselessly for 95% of the day… using up space and costing us a monthly car payment, car insurance, and maintenance. All of our car transportation needs can be met with like a 20th the number of cars we actually have, if the cars could drive themselves to serve the people needing them.

    Plus, these cars can pick up, from home, blind people or anyone else that would have difficulty getting to the rail depot.

    If these cars are 100% electric, we also cut CO2 emissions. A car with a low battery goes back to the company stable to charge, and a fresh one comes out in its place.

    I like MSP’s rail system. But the downside to rail is that you have to live by the rails. With autonomous cars, you get all the benefits of an electric rail line, but can live way out of town where land is cheap.

  42. The obvious solution to that latter problem is train-driverless car synergy: arteries for trains and buses, capillaries for individual cars handling last-mile transport. Or can a nationwide fleet of Google cars replace mass transit?

    We will need to change up our road funding formula if we convert to driverless cars, especially electric cars. If David’s numbers are right, we would need far fewer driverless cars in a shared fleet than the number of cars for each household sitting idle 95% of the time (95% idle time—alas, the 5% active time comes at the same time for a huge fraction of drivers, so I’m not sure we can cut 19 out of 20 cars), meaning less excise tax and licensing fees. We’ll need to shift the gasoline tax to an energy tax (if we can tax the property your car sits on, we can tax the utilities that make the juice for your car).

    Making South Dakota more ready for this technology depends on the technology Google needs to make their cars work. Do we need to include different signs or stripes or transponders in our roads for the driverless car sensors to read?

  43. David Bergan

    I’m not opposed to car-train synergy in principle, but unless I live right next to a train depot, isn’t the train part an unnecessary hassle?

    Pretend I’m a blind person in Lakeville who wants to visit my brother in Golden Valley. I get an autonomous car to pick me up and take me to the MoA so I can board the light rail. Then I take the blue line all the way to Target Field. De-train and summon another car to take me from Target Field to Golden Valley.

    I picked a route that would use the entirety of the Blue line just to make the point that even in this case, wouldn’t I rather have the car pick me up and take me directly to my destination? Why hassle with timing my trip to get to the train stop on time, getting a ticket, making sure I transfer all my bags & belongings, finding a seat, making sure I don’t get mugged, making sure I don’t miss my stop, arranging for another car at the train stop, and transferring my belongings again?

    Furthermore, it’s definitely faster to have the car drive directly to my destination. The car doesn’t have to make 16 passenger stops that don’t apply to me. :)

    The questions of passenger cost and the environment will be close calls in the comparison of electric autonomous cars to an electric light-rail line. But time-saved and convenience are slam-dunks for the autonomous cars. If you factor in the city’s cost of making and maintaining a dedicated light-rail line (which eats up real-estate that then can’t be used for anything else, not even buses), you understand the writing’s on the wall for within-city mass transit. Why would MSP expend the capital to make the proposed METRO extensions if by the time they’re finished, they won’t get used?

    Autonomous cars are definitely coming, but there’s two perspectives as to how it will arrive. Google is taking the moonshot approach, delivering fully-autonomous cars (without steering wheels) that look like VW bugs. Here’s a video of what those look like, picking up the elderly and blind.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqSDWoAhvLU

    The other perspective is that autonomous technology will incrementally merge with normal cars. Audi’s taking this approach. They are “solving” (a) parallel parking, (b) traffic jam driving, and (c) highway driving independently and adding these features to their cars just like adding the cruise control feature 30 years ago. Their cars drive like a normal car with steering wheels and gas pedals. However, if you enable “Highway Pilot” then the steering wheel pulls in a couple inches and the car starts driving itself. If you ever feel like you need to take control, just tap the brake or jerk the steering wheel, and you’re the driver again. When you near your exit ramp, the car alerts you that it will be giving you control… and if you fail to respond, it will park itself on the shoulder and turn on the hazard lights.

    This approach helps drivers to “learn” not to drive, to learn to trust the technology. It’s also a lot smoother transition with the regulations and insurance system that we currently have.

    Audi says “Highway Pilot” is only 3-5 years away. I don’t know about the rest of you, but highway driving is the one part of driving that I dislike the most. It’s where I get sleepy and bored. It’s where I reach into the back seat to get something for my kids, while trying to keep one hand on the wheel. It’s where I stare out the side of my window to look at nature and momentarily forget about the road. It’s where my mind starts to wonder if I could safely send a text message or check Google maps on my phone.

    But if you stand on the shoulder of the Interstate and feel cars whizzing past you… you know what 75 mph really is. Stand there and imagine the next driver is looking more at his phone than at the road.

    Driverless cars can’t get here fast enough.

  44. Curious: do 100 driverless individual cars use energy more efficiently than one commuter train?

    Will driverless cars make mass transit go away any faster than our current cars have? Cities have still evolved viable mass transit routes between destinations with sufficient demand. Driverless cars still can cause congestions (though some smart algorithms running hive-mind driverless cars will help), and some focal destinations (Target Field, Mall of America, U of M) will still benefit from removing 100 cars from the street and replacing them with a single train.

    But just wait: once the driverless sensors and algorithms get really good, we’ll put our faith in the robots to drive us to Rapid City at 160 mph.

  45. David Bergan

    The first question is the tough one and I don’t have stats on that side of it. During non-peak hours, the train uses vast energy to haul less than a dozen passengers. But it has to keep its schedule all-day every-day. During peak hours, I imagine the train wins on energy (but still loses on convenience).

    Your artery/capillary metaphor makes more sense over great distances. If I’m going to Los Angeles, perhaps the autonomous car can board a train and get carried across 5 states, kinda like how a car boards a ferry. Still this requires timing/waiting for the car to board the train. (If that element works out like AmTrak, it’s quite inconvenient in our region. Right now, to go to Glacier, I have to board AmTrak at 2am in Fargo… at that’s when the train’s on time.) However, timing/waiting probably isn’t a major problem for the 18-wheelers, so significant energy (and wear-and-tear on our Interstates) could be saved there.

    Something like 30% of adults don’t have drivers licenses, which is why mass transit is important right now. However, those same adults can be served by autonomous cars. If they were rich, they’d have chauffers, right? Kinda rich, they’d use a car service or taxis. Poor, they use the buses or trains. In each case, the cost is proportional to the rider-per-driver ratio… how many other people are riding during the day, because there is one driver for the limo/taxi/bus/train and we need to pay him a wage. Take the driver out the equation, and you’re just paying for energy and maintenance on the vehicle. The energy/maintenance comparison is a lot closer than the rider-per-driver ratio.

    Finally, energy use isn’t a huge concern if all vehicles are electric, and all our electricity is green. Solar technology should reach grid parity next year, which becomes the game-changer in that market. So if a train or car runs around empty, it’s only wasting sunlight-energy (or wind-energy), that we weren’t even collecting 10 years ago.

  46. The Rail Runner between south of ABQ and Santa Fe goes through several pueblos and is well-supported with stops in each community: it has brought at least access to prosperity in an historically poor state.

  47. Excellent link Larry. I know there are citizens in South Dakota that do not believe a rail system would work in a rural state. We had a pretty good network of rail here in the past but we lost it for the most part. The rail bed still exists though and it would take peanuts in todays dollars compared to what it cost when it was first constructed in the late 1800’s. The rail still exists from Kadoka east so that could be upgraded with new steel and away we go. Use the rail bed from Kadoka to Rapid City and you have a winner for not only freight but for people as well. Loop it south to small communities on the reservation and then to the main line and you have one helluva transportation problem solved as well as a huge market potential. Or we could just go to war some more.

  48. larry kurtz

    Two state-long east-west exclusively freight rail systems makes zero sense, Jerry; but, as you know, the Cretaceous shale that make Keystone XL untenable and breaks up the I-90 roadbed West River makes rail development an engineering challenge nobody in South Dakota is smart enough to design.

  49. In the rewilded West there will be no rail lines, you silly boys.

  50. larry kurtz

    rewild the west, rail under beringia to russia and beyond, statehood for the tribes and mexico.

  51. Mexican statehood for the tribes, indeed.

  52. We must act as climate change is clearly on the move. The Ogallala Aquifer is dangerously low in Kansas and they keep pumping. http://cjonline.com/news/business/2014-07-22/western-kansas-farmers-worry-ogallala-aquifer-disappears Once that water is gone, it will take a century if even then, for it to reinvent itself.
    California has one year left for its water supply, one year of water for a state the size of many countries. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-famiglietti-drought-california-20150313-story.html

    In South Dakota, we increase the speed limit to increase even further greenhouse gasses like we are not involved in the world. All of these make for pollution. The sooner we start to deal with it, the sooner a future can be for the grandchildrens grandchildren.

  53. mike from iowa

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2015/03/16/deja-vu-sinking-oil-prices-sinking-gasoline-prices/24846455/

    Crude is now at a six year low. Why are gasoline prices spiking??????

  54. David: put the cars on trains? I thought I’d just ride the Aberdeen Auto-Car System to the depot, catch a train to Rapid City, then hop into a Rapid City Auto-Car to toodle up to Dinosaur Park.

  55. Deb Geelsdottir

    You’ve examined my chief concerns about eliminating mass transit in favor of autonomous autos. That is the crush of rush hour traffic. If I’m taking David’s route from Lakeville to Golden Valley at 5:00pm, I’m getting on the train.

    I often take the train to downtown StP or Mpls just because parking is expensive and a pain in the butt. If I’m going to a Lynx game in the Target Center in downtown Mpls, I can get a ticket for $10. But, I’ll have to pay that much, or more, to park within a block of the building.

    I think there will always be a need for mass transit. Some people see taking the bus or train as part of their social life, and it’s affordable. 75c for disabled and/or elderly folks and in MN those groups can get a pass so their transportation is free. I can’t see a state willing to pay for or subsidize transportation via a car unless it becomes as economical as the bus or train.

  56. how far does an 80 to 86 mph car/truck travel before stopping? hundreds more feet i am sure. looking at phone at 80-86mph delays emergency reaction how much? (86 only because many believe SDHP won’t pull you over for 6mph over.) we all know many more will be, assuredly, going 90. yikes. this is no autobahn in sleepy red SD. :)

    or did you already decide it was, design wise?

    grudz-you are a SDGOP racist @ 19:13. don’t do it here. you are not cute. you have done this before. poet my ass. i get a little tired calling you out. you are too old for this bullsheit.

  57. David Bergan

    “David: put the cars on trains? I thought I’d just ride the Aberdeen Auto-Car System to the depot, catch a train to Rapid City, then hop into a Rapid City Auto-Car to toodle up to Dinosaur Park.”

    I just want to give the car my destination, leave at 11pm, go to sleep, and wake up there. Getting on and off a train requires waking up, waking the kids up, moving all our luggage, waiting for the train, and arranging for a car at our destination. I’d rather just take the car straight to the destination… especially for night travel (which is one of the biggest plusses of autonomous cars… multitasking long-distance driving and sleeping).

    I’ve done the 2am transfer at AmTrak, in Fargo, in below zero winter, too many times already in my life. It was so obnoxious that for the last two Christmases in Havre, we just drove the entire distance instead.

  58. David Bergan

    Update! Teslas will have automated highway driving in THREE MONTHS!

    http://www.wired.com/2015/03/elon-wants-make-tesla-drive-legal/

    Existing Teslas will get an over-the-air software update to include this feature.

    The entry level Tesla S60 is an all electric sedan with a range of 208 miles. You can add a subzero weather package, and Tesla has 3 supercharging stations in SD along I90 (Mitchell, Murdo, and Rapid City).

    Driverless cars can’t get here fast enough.