‘175mph in Utah, visibility to the horizon in both directions and no humans for miles’
YESTERDAY I BROKE a law. I live in America, so those words could mean almost anything.
On one end of the Stateside illegality spectrum you have acts like murder: ethically straightforward; often requires mucking about with messy human fluids; generally a bad idea. At the other end of the list you have a host of silly civic leftovers from when my relatively young country was even younger, sussing how to operate a government. Laws that made sense long ago and now do not, but were never struck from the rolls. (Fact regarding the state of Arizona: it is illegal there for a donkey to sleep in a bathtub.)
And then, somewhere in the middle, you have speeding. (Missouri: the law there prohibits you from driving a car containing an uncaged bear.)
We can bifurcate this into two types of acts. First, there is the kind of speeding that puts pedestrians, other drivers or just about anyone but yourself at risk. Undeniably a bad idea, practised only by selfish troglodytes and professional nose-pickers. The second type of speeding, however, is wonderful. It is the sort of thing that keeps me up night, eyes bolt open, wondering why I’m not in a car. It is what happens in the middle of nowhere, not a living soul for miles, when you beat the living wee out of the pavement and maybe feel as if your pulse was built solely from caffeine and laughter. (South Dakota: it is illegal to sleep in a cheese factory. These are all real state laws, by the way. Ask Google.)
Velocity can be fun. That should be obvious. It can also be dangerous, as statistics have long told us. A recent study by America’s National Transportation Safety Board found that speeding was the main factor in 31 per cent of US traffic fatalities from 2005 to 2014. Set aside issues of driver training, autobahn statistics or situational awareness – speed is a form of energy, and traffic accidents dissipate that energy. Energy dissipated into the human body tends to dissipate the human body.
To be clear: don’t speed in a way that puts others at risk. But oh, the other thing.
I wonder, sometimes, why we demonise that bit. Why, in my country, the penalty for doubling the speed limit across an empty Nevada desert is roughly the same as the penalty for going 70mph across Manhattan at noon on a Tuesday. (West Virginia: it is prohibited to whistle underwater.)
I have so many memories, all of them illegal. A Ferrari Lusso at 175mph in Utah, visibility to the horizon in both directions and no other humans for miles. California’s deserted Mount Shasta in winter, nothing to hit but the side of a mountain, doubling the 30mph limit between hairpins on an old BMW R90S motorcycle made of frame flex and torque reaction. A 997 911 GT2 far outside Las Vegas, in the explosive part of fifth gear, asphalt so rough the front tyres were basically wafting in the breeze. That weird, whole-body zen-ballet when you find the speed at which some car or motorcycle will turn a road into a glissade, hanging on the algorithm of weather and machine ability and pavement condition, making you feel so alive it almost hurts. (Kentucky: one may not dye a duckling blue and offer it for sale unless six other ducklings are also for sale at the same time.)
Or last night, in the Cascade Range east of my house, the drive that got me thinking about all this. So good that describing the moment would ruin it. (I lived in Kentucky once; that last one is perhaps reasonable. Five ducks would have been enough.)
Change is coming; black boxes and data collection mean that this brand of risk-only-yourself civil disobedience will become a thing of the past. Do we offset that through a way to legally vent vehicular steam outside a circuit? Deserted nowhere highways accessible only with a special driving licence, gained through training? And why is the appeal of this sort of thing so different from driving on a closed circuit, or a derestricted autobahn – pastimes I also enjoy? (Texas: it is illegal to sell one’s eye.)
Laws exist for a reason. I’m not saying you should break them. (Florida: A person cannot have sex with a porcupine.)
I’m just asking questions. (I just searched ‘porcupine quills in human body’. Do not do that.)
Okay, maybe not some questions. (Good law, that porcupine bit. Should probably stay on the books.)