I Can’t Drive 65

Roadtrip Vignettes, Part 12

I hadn't driven in Utah since 2011, and at some point since I'd last visited, they'd changed the speed limit along I-70 to 80 mph. The number looked weird to me when I first saw the signs. 80. I've driven in 75 mph zones for years, but there was something about 80, the literal roundness of the numbers, that seemed like we'd crossed into entirely new territory.

I'm not a speed demon. Partly it's that I got conditioned to really, really dislike seeing those flashing lights in the rearview--a couple of big fines when I really didn't have any money to lose will do that to a guy. But I also was taught moderation at an impressionable age by my father. I remember coming back in our VW camper from a camping trip somewhere when I was little kid, maybe six or seven years old. My dad was driving and I was sitting next to him on a foldout stool between the front seats.1 I remember asking him why he was going 60 when all the signs said, "Speed Limit 55." (That feels like a million years ago now, doesn't it, the federal 55 speed limit.) He told me that 5 mph over the limit was okay. So I've basically taken that attitude ever since. Experience bears it out: 5 mph over is a speed that's not likely to attract the attention of the police. (I'll concede, though, that that attitude might reflect a certain white privilege. I'm unlikely to ever get pulled over for Driving While Black.)

So anyway, 80. 80 felt like a new territory. And I thought about it for a little bit as I crossed into Utah on the first day of my trip, and for the first time in my life outside a heavily patrolled construction zone, I brought my car's speed to exactly the speed limit and set the cruise control there. 80 is fast enough.

In Utah, both I-70 and I-84 now have 80 mph speed limits. So does I-84 in Idaho. It didn't take me long to get comfortable, not with the speed itself (like I said, I drive 80 in a 75), but rather the sense that not even the most ornery state patrolman could find a reason to pull me over for speeding.

And then I got to the Oregon state line. The speed limit dropped to 65 mph and stayed there, and I had to reason that being a radical anomaly in the speedy West meant they keep their Highway Patrol on Income Earning Duty, and so I grumblingly kept myself to a what-felt-like-crawling 70 mph, and cursed the sanctimonious assholes who apparently set the speed limits in Oregon.

(And really, Oregon, for at least the eastern part of your state, there's really no excuse. There's no one out there. Like Utah, southern Idaho, Nevada, and eastern Washington, it's low-population desert with occasional mountain ranges. You guys are jerks.)

1 Yup, you read that right. "Between the seats." Attitudes toward seat belts have changed a lot since the early '80s, haven't they?

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