By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 12/04/13 (Wed)
In the 1990s, Montana didn’t have a posted daytime speed limit. Instead, you could go as fast as you wanted, as long as you deemed it safe to be moving that speed.
Traveling on Montana highways was kind of like being on the autobahn in Germany. The only difference was in Germany every third car that whizzed by you was a Mercedes Benz, and in Montana it was a beat-up Dodge pickup.
People could “fly” from Wibaux to Billings in the time it took to change a blown out tire.
Yes, for some years, Montana’s law was pretty lax. In fact, it was said that whatever was reasonable and prudent was the law.
The downside of that was when that law was in effect in the 1990s, traffic fatalities increased across Montana by 30 percent.
It gained a lot of media attention and eventually, the law got changed to a moderate standard.
It’s now beginning to look a lot like 1990s Montana on U.S. Highway 52.
People like to speed down the highway, regardless of weather conditions, light or dark, animals or economy; there seems to be an incredible lack of respect for the road, its conditions and other motorists.
Call me an oddball, but my thinking is a 180-degree departure from the norm. I will often slow down a little instead of stepping on it.
First of all, as much as I enjoy driving my Ford F-150 and it’s “magic carpet” style ride, it isn’t the greatest on gas mileage at 70 miles per hour or greater. And with a gallon of gas costing more than four times a copy of The Kenmare News, I slow down.
In fact, how many 4-wheel drive, full-size pickups do you know of that can get 18 miles per gallon? At 60, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Back in college I was “forced” to drive from Hazelton to Grand Forks, 250 miles, at an average speed of 52 miles per hour. One of my genius hockey friends at UND calculated it out for me that 52 was the optimum speed for what little money I had at the time.
Now I’m doing it because I want to. It saves money, it saves wear and tear and yes, I can get 18 mpg if I watch what I’m doing.
The posted speed on U.S. 52 says “Speed Limit 65.” That tells me that’s the maximum speed. It doesn’t list a minimum so traveling 5 or 10 mph slower is the way I operate unless there’s a legitimate emergency like the time a 70 mph wind obliterated my greenhouse. I had to get there quick.
The bigger issue is safety. In the three years I worked in New Town, I took it upon myself to slow down 5 miles per hour from the posted speed for no other reason but to have extra reaction time, not if, but when an accident occurred.
That extra one or two seconds made a difference more than once in mishaps I may have been involved in had I been going 5 mph faster. Instead, I was able to stay out of the danger and photograph the carnage.
U.S. 52 isn’t nearly as dangerous as N.D. Highway 23 between Makoti and Watford City, but it’s changing.
There’s more traffic on U.S. 52 than five years ago and now with four-laning of Provincial Highway 39 beginning in Sasktachewan, traffic will increase even more.
Think about it. If you’re in a hurry, you know there’s going to be farm machinery, houses, cattle drives, accidents or worse yet, a Highway Patrol officer waiting for you. The lesser of two evils is to plan more time on the road.
Be smart, be safe and save some money. In my case, traveling 60 instead of 70 mph allows me to go 88 more miles on a tank of gas and saves me $18 each time I fill the tank. Now isn’t that reasonable and prudent.