Fast-Tracked for Passage: Politicos on the Road
There was a time we feared only celebrities on our highways. We’d be coming home safely in our 1950 Ford only to get blindsided by the likes of James Dean in his 1955 Porsche Spyder. Or decades later, we’d be driving in Connecticut only to have David Letterman whiz by with a police car closing fast.
Although the sight of roadragin’ celebrities — particularly if they’re young and terribly thin and have been in rehab or married to failed rappers — might still be reason for the heart to beat faster, a new road menace has quietly arisen. Forget Britney or Lindsay or Paris. Naw, they’re harmless if, you know, they’re sober and wearing underwear. It’s our elected officials who now give us great pause when entering the on-ramp.
They might come up on you suddenly, in either a black Lincoln Town Car or darkened sport ute traveling at a speed that can only be described as self-important, or in one of those ominous motorcades, which display a haste that needs “intersection control.” What they are doing is expressing
expressing their need for speed, one of the last perquisites of power for the pol no longer able to accept the Gulfstream lift and 18 holes at St. Andrews.
Our chosen representatives — whether they’re driving or being driven — are the real-life Ricky Bobbys, treating the speed limit with contempt. Some might say: Why shouldn’t they? After all, they’re not heading to Diddy’s Hamptons bash. They’ve got official stuff to attend to, damn it. They need to get to press briefings, photo-ops with charter-school students, or, in the case of New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, to a mediation session between former radio-show host Don Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team. He never got there. His Chevy Suburban crashed on the Garden State Parkway while going 91 mph.
“This is part of a larger pattern where drivers don’t recognize the dangers of speeding,” says Richard Rettings, senior transportation engineer with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “The culture of some politicians may be such that they think it’s okay to speed.”
Or flout the law requiring them to wear seat belts, as Corzine did.
If it’s any consolation to the recovering Corzine, he’s not alone.
After the latest in a series of speeding incidents that marked his tenure, New Mexico Gov., and Democratic presidential hopeful, Bill Richardson was quoted by the Santa Fe New Mexican as saying: “I am the first to admit that I try to cram as much business as possible into each and every day. As you know, I’m impatient.” This appeared to be an explanation for why the governor’s vehicle refused to stop when flagged by an Albuquerque plainclothes policeman.
After a 2003 report in The Washington Post detailing Richardson’s Flash-like need to tap into the speed force, Ralph Nader wrote to Richardson, “You are driving too fast, which makes you a danger on the New Mexican highways and a wasteful guzzler of energy.”
Governors are rarely the ones with the lead foot. Why, they might be so absorbed in their paperwork they don’t recognize how quickly the scenery is flying by.
After the Philadelphia Daily News reported in 2004 that state troopers had clocked Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s limousine traveling more than 100 mph on nine occasions, he issued a statement: “I will begin to monitor the speed that I am being driven.” Troopers told the paper the gov had urged them to drive that fast. In one episode, another trooper gave chase, until told over police radio to back off “Executive One.”
Like Corzine and Rendell, Richardson was a passenger. Richardson’s vehicle was being driven by a state police driver, a member of a force that, the governor said in the New Mexican, “have been specially trained in dignitary protection by the Secret Service. They have never operated the vehicle in a way that would risk the safety of me or other drivers on the road. I will also never question them when they believe security is an issue."
Governors’ drivers are state law enforcement officers who are expected to obey traffic-safety laws and not speed, according to an Associated Press survey of state travel policies. These drivers, however, are typically permitted to speed and use flashers in emergencies.
And when it comes to the White House — President Bush’s motorcades have been involved in a number of accidents over the years — Secret Service spokeswoman Kim Bruce says, “We don’t talk about our means and methods of how we move our protectees from point A to point B.”
What’s clearer are the costs of such speed. After spending eight days on a ventilator, Corzine, as of this writing, remains hospitalized, his release scheduled for tomorrowand his gubernatorial duties put away for the foreseeable future. In addition to fracturing a vertebra in his lower back, Corzine broke his sternum, collarbone, left thighbone and 11 ribs.
“The core message of this is age-old and applies just as much today as it did in the 1950s and ’60s,” Rettings says. “Speeding is amajor factor in accidents that result in serious injury. The speed at which a driver’s traveling increases the chance of being involved in a collision and how severe a collision could be. At the end of the day, nobody is above the law of physics.”
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine’s vehicle after he was seriously injured in an accident on April 12.