Aaron Pilkington, an officer trainee at Air Force Officer Training School in Montgomery, Ala., writes to say:
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I was driving down the road the other day with a fellow trainee, pointing out to him that the particular road along which we were driving always has police officers hiding out and catching people speeding. Just as I said that, sure enough, we saw a police car pull out with lights on and pull someone over. My friend, Bill, said that he wondered if the song “Sweet Home Alabama” would work in Alabama. I asked him to elaborate.
My friend, who is from Rhode Island, explained that a couple of years ago he was speeding and got pulled over by a police officer. He said that the song “Sweet Home Alabama” was on the radio and that somehow the officer let him off on a warning. Some time later, he was pulled over again and had the song on his iPod. In the time between being pulled over by the police officer and the officer walking up to his window, he pulled the song up on his iPod and left it on loud enough to be heard by the police officer, but not too loud. Again, success. He said this happened one more time just a couple of months ago in Florida and that he now always has at the ready a CD with the song “Sweet Home Alabama,” just in case he gets pulled over again.
Michael Sivak, a transportation scholar at the University of Michigan whose work has appeared on this blog before, released a new study on inter-state variations in economic activity per unit of driving. His findings are interesting and reflect significant differences in GDP per distance driven among U.S. states:
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In 2011, the highest GDP per distance driven was in the District of Columbia ($30.04/mile, followed by Alaska, New York, Connecticut, and Delaware. The lowest GDP per distance driven was in Mississippi ($2.51/mile), followed by Alabama, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The median value was $4.66/mile. In comparison, the standard federal reimbursement rate for fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile in 2011 was $0.51/mile.
From 1997 to 2011, the largest absolute increase in GDP per distance driven (with GDP measured in current dollars) was in the District of Columbia (+$14.95/mile), followed by Alaska, New York, Delaware, and Oregon. The smallest increase was in Mississippi(+$0.67/mile), followed by Alabama, Michigan. Florida, and New Mexico.
“The African region has 2 percent of the world’s registered vehicles but a disproportionate 16 percent of the world’s road traffic deaths,” said Tami Toroyan, a technical officer in the department of violence and injury prevention at the World Health Organization in Geneva.
We’ve talked in the past about the massive potential upsides of self-driving vehicles. Just this week came word that Nissan hopes to bring autonomous vehicles to the market by 2020. If you read this heartbreaking Times article by Nicholas Kulish about a series of bus crashes in Kenya (from which the quote above is taken), you may be ready for such vehicles even sooner.
There are of course many barriers to get past before the world is ready for autonomous vehicles — yes, there will be lawsuits of all kinds and yes, professional drivers all over will protest the loss of jobs and yes, there will be people who trust a human driver more than a computer driver — but I do wouldn’t be shocked if my grandchildren grow up in a world where “driving a car” seems like something that cavemen used to do.
A couple years ago, when I first noticed the ability to overlay a traffic report on Google Maps on my iPhone, I assumed that the world of drivers — especially people who drive for a living — would take it up very quickly. In a place like New York, choosing a free-flowing route versus a congested route might save you 30 or even 60 minutes on an airport trip.
But I seem to have been quite wrong. In most instances when I take a taxi or hired car to/from an airport, the driver doesn’t check any kind of device to see where traffic is heavy and where it’s light, even though smartphones with map and traffic apps have exploded in the last couple of years. Once in a while, he’ll tune in to the all-news radio station to get a spotty traffic update.
Therefore, I usually now check my traffic app as soon as I get in the car to see what routes are looking good and which are looking bad, and then relay that info to the driver. Why don’t more professional drivers use traffic-enabled GPS? Read More »
A reader named Ari writes from Israel:
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Recently the Israel Government voted to change the minimum age for getting a driver’s license. Here is a snippet from an article in Ha’aretz (headlined “Israel to Lower Driving Age, but Tack on Period of Mandatory Supervision”):
The earliest age to start driving lessons will remain 16 and a half. The period of driving accompanied by an adult will have to cover at least 50 hours, 20 of them on urban streets, 15 hours on inter-urban roads and 15 hours of driving at night. The novice driver will have to have an adult chaperone at all hours of the day during the first three months but only at night during the second three months. After the novice driver and the accompanying person sign a declaration that the accompanied driving requirement has been fulfilled properly, the new driver will be given a young driver’s license.
I’m curious as to how the honor system is going to work here. If my child’s license were to depend on my declaration, what are the chances that I would fudge? How would the governing agency know? It seems to be unverifiable. I assume that there will be some internet-based form with a checkbox and maybe some number to fill in (number of hours driven night / day / rain / …) I believe that forcing a person to write his own declaration would make it more difficult for him to lie.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “The Downside of More Miles Per Gallon.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)
The gist: the Federal gas tax is a primary source of infrastructure funding but, politically, it has proven a hard tax to increase. Furthermore, because the tax is a fixed amount (18.4 cents per gallon) rather than a percentage, gas-tax revenues don’t rise even when gas prices do — as has been happening lately.
So what’s to be done? Some politicians want to get rid of gas taxes in favor of an increased sales tax — which, Eric Morris argues, is a bad idea, since it shifts the burden to non-drivers. Read More »
Some thinkers make their reputations by focusing on social justice, economic progress, or global sustainability. I took the low road and went for horse manure. It was my article on filth, flies, and putrefying horse carcasses in the 19th century city that brought me to the attention of Dubner and Levitt and, for better or worse, to this site. FYI, the article is here.
If you do peruse it, you’ll see I ended with the hope that technology will bail us out of our transportation problems just like it bailed us out of those caused by the horse. At that time, a deus ex machina descended from the heavens to improbably solve the insoluble. The savior was known as the automobile, and as it went from obscurity to ubiquity in a few decades it banished the working horse—a primary mode of transportation for thousands of years—to oblivion.
There was only one problem with my call for a miraculous technological fix: I did not have the slightest idea what that technology would be. Read More »