@TBPInvictus here:


“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” – George Carlin

A quick note on where I think technology might take us in the very near future.

We’re well into the age of electronic toll collection systems (E-ZPass, etc.), the convenience of which is indisputable. These systems provide users with electronic tags – mounted on windshields and associated with specific vehicles – that register their passage through tolls and automatically deduct the appropriate amount from a prepaid account. The downside of this technological advance has been the virtual elimination of the job of “toll collector.” (I tried to scrounge up an employment series for “Collector, Toll,” but it seems BLS doesn’t drill down quite that deep, and “Cashier” is way too broad a category. I will update this post should I find the data.)

One local bridge no longer has any toll collectors whatsoever. Payment is made either via E-ZPass or “Toll by Mail,” a process by which a photo of the vehicle’s license plate is snapped and a bill subsequently mailed to the registered owner. Traffic flows very smoothly and there are rarely delays.

Back to the electronic toll collection system:

The system registers your entry and exit points along with the time of entry and exit; these are always detailed on your monthly statement. So: You enter the thruway at Point A and exit at Point B. Let’s say it takes you one hour to travel the 85 miles from Point A to Point B. You see where this is going? The system is already in place to determine – very easily, in fact – whose average speed exceeded the lawful limit and by how much. A citation could subsequently be issued. The use of electronic toll collection systems as a tool for law enforcement – and deterrent – purposes is simply a matter of time and, well, distance.

As with the now-ubiquitous red-light cameras, no points could be assessed on these violations, as it would be virtually impossible to determine who was behind the wheel.

My guess is that no one would trade off the convenience of E-ZPass for the opportunity to speed with impunity and immediately lose all that “saved” time sitting in a queue waiting to pay the toll.

The benefits here are twofold (in order of importance):

  • Increased highway safety
  • Increased revenue

It’s obvious, of course, that this concept would, in one broad stroke, cover thousands of miles of highways, whereas a stationary trooper sitting roadside with a radar gun has much more limited efficacy.

I am most definitely, most vehemently, against government surveillance and intrusion into our lives. I am, however, for increased highway safety and minimizing the senseless loss of life on our roadways. Secondarily, speeding costs our economy over $40 billion/year (2004 data). There will be some challenges if/when my vision becomes reality. But they will be beaten back and the state, as it usually does, will prevail. Very uncharacteristically, I’ll be okay with that in this case.

Update: Seeing some comments about various ways in which the scheme I laid out can be defeated, and they’re valid. However, let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Sure, there are always work-arounds, and no system is ever flawless. That said, I do think this will ultimately be deployed and will ultimately be effective in achieving its objective.

Category: Technology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

15 Responses to “A Matter of Time (and Distance)”

  1. flocktard says:

    Be careful what you wish for, Barry. They have these speed reading systems in Great Britain, WITHOUT the use of tolls, and if you are timed on the M1 between two points at a speed above the limit, you are fined by mail. A 10 minute drive on the L.I.E. proves one thing: it’s not the SPEED that’s the problem, it’s the RECKLESSNESS.

    I don’t like being held to a 55 MPH limit in today’s modern vehicles, when it was 70 MPH when I was 20 years old before the oil crisis hit, and safety “advocates” conflated saving fuel with saving lives. There were no radial tires, no disk brakes, anti-lock brakes had yet to be invented, and a great many cars on the road still lacked lap belts. The Expressway wasn’t even electrified in those days, and standard headlights were easily “overdriven” at 45 MPH- even with the brights on.

    In any case, in those Western states with long stretches of lonely Interstates, many raised their speed limits back up to pre Yom Kippur War levels. The fatality rate decreased.

  2. wally says:

    I think highway fatalities are more associated with speed differential than with absolute speed. Even Highway Patrols will acknowledge that. The toll technology you cite may promise to ‘increase safety’ but I don’t think that would stand up to scrutiny.

  3. TerryC says:

    “I am most definitely, most vehemently, against government surveillance and intrusion into our lives. I am, however, for increased highway safety and minimizing the senseless loss of life on our roadways. Secondarily, speeding costs our economy over $40 billion/year (2004 data)”.

    Tobacco kills a lot more people and costs much more, why isn’t it illegal?
    Fat people keel over from heart attacks from drinking too much sugar, so why aren’t those large sodas still illegal in NYC (damn those judges!).

    In one breath you rail against government intrusion in our lives, and with the next breath say it’s OK. Sounds pretty hypocritical to me. Make up your mind.

    Invictus: To address you point-by-point:

    Although there is a danger in second-hand smoke, tobacco overwhelmingly kills only the person who uses it. No one else. That said, the tobacco industry has a massive lobby. And, to paraphrase from the GOP line that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” we should be clear that tobacco (i.e. cigarette companies) doesn’t kill people. Cancer does. And if tobacco were made illegal tomorrow, there’d be no objection from me.

    Ditto all that for soda – I’m not going to die from someone else’s obesity. Speeding often kills more than just the offending driver. It kills his passengers and frequently those in other vehicles.

    Very weak argument you’ve put forth.

    • DuaneBidoux2 says:

      It’s hard to imagine, even in the mind of a libertarian (well maybe not today’s libertarians) how you can compare speeding with sodas and tobacco. You can’t drive your cigarette into an oncoming lane at excessive speeds while drinking and kill me. Where cigarettes do kill we have indeed put limits on smoking where your smoke gets in my lungs. The sodas I couldn’t care either. Once again your examples are even close to being the same.

  4. b_thunder says:

    “The system is already in place to determine – very easily, in fact – whose average speed exceeded the lawful limit and by how much.” – Right, the average speed. The AVERAGE.
    So if I drive on a stretch where speed limit is 70mph, but get stuck in 30mph traffic for half the distance, then I can drive the rest of the way @110mph and have average speed 70!
    So tell me please what is safer: drive 80 where limit is 70, or drive around 70mph most of the time but also go 90, 100 or more on a few occasions?

    Well, ,I’ll tell you what is safer: do what Germans do! Thorough driver training, annual vehicle inspections to get marginal vehicles off the highways, make sure older folks have the physical ability and mental capacity to drive!

    And finally, what is the safest? Self-driving Google cars, of course!

  5. Iamthe50percent says:

    The problem with automatic tolls is random cheating by the tollway system. A good programmer could even skim on his/her own and funnel the cash to an offshore account. Forty five cents on every hundreth car builds up fast.

  6. Crocodile Chuck says:

    The problem with automatic tolls is random cheating by the tollway system.”

    @Iamthe50%: Prove it.

    @Invictus: Nice tutorial on electronic tolling. Mobil launched E-Z Pass in 1998. Singapore implemented in the early 1990′s.

  7. petessake says:

    It’s mostly ridiculous that the interstates have speed limits quantum metrics below the design speed of 85 mph. Our interstates need a design make-over to upgrade them to the construction and design of the autobahn. We need strict laws to keep to the right (or a designated lane) except when passing or exiting, we need updated electronic signs tied to monitored traffic centers that adjust the speed limit based on traffic conditions or weather, we need personal responsibility laws (not wearing a seatbelt – then the insurance company may cover a fraction of your accident cost; DUI – no insurance coverage for that accident, etc.), and we ought to close half to 60% of the interstate exits to stop the intercity traffic from clogging interstate commerce.

  8. kaleberg says:

    Some time back a lot of turnpikes and throughways charged tolls based on which entrance you used and which exit you used. (e.g. New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania) You were given a punch card when you entered and you had to turn it in when you exited and pay the toll there. The process was computerized, even by the mid-1960s, so it would have been pretty straightforward to spot speeders and fine them on the spot. The driver would be whoever was sitting behind the steering wheel.

    I heard a number of arguments as to why this was not done. Some involved worries about the backlog at the toll plaza or that this would place a police burden on the toll collector. Another theory was that too many people would speed like maniacs, but then stop and kill time at the rest stops to average down their speed, and that this would lead to leading to crowding at the rest stops.

    This isn’t a new problem. The technology has been around for 50 years now.

    Invictus: I’ll date myself and tell you that I drove in the era of those little computerized tickets, and I think the issue with using that technology is exactly as you describe above – it would have created back-ups at the toll plazas and placed far too much of a burden on the toll collectors. The issue of speeding and taking a break at a rest stop is, of course, one way to slow the average speed. But no method will prove infallible, and the point, at least to me, is not make a perfect system, but one that will improve highway safety.

  9. Jojo says:

    Please. The perfect speed is what 85% of the other drivers are going. Look it up if you don’t believe me. Modern cars are a lot safer at speed than they used to be.

    So the best implementation of your automatic ticketing system should really be the elimination of all speed limits. Let people drive at any speed. The vast majority of people will stay within a close range that they feel safe at. Those that average over (or under) by too much get the ticket.

    And while tickets are being given out, I’d like to see people get tickets for having tires too worn to drive safely on. I have a habit of looking at tires as I walk down streets and it is amazing the number of cars with minimal tread left that I see.

    Invictus: I’d be okay with your idea if everyone followed the simple rule of keeping right except to pass. But no one does.

    As to your point on tires, isn’t tread wear part of the annual inspection punch list? I’m pretty sure it is.

  10. Icouldabenacontendah says:

    I think many of us don’t realize what a profound difference electronic toll collection can make. Take this family’s story:


  11. ilsm says:

    I could never average more than the posted speed limit on a Thruway. I am (of the age) bound by rule #1, “never pass a bathroom”.

    Otherwise in my years of using EZ Pass in NY Metro area bridges and Thruways I have saved hundreds of hours versus using cash.

  12. intlacct says:

    This (using distance traveled and time to determine speeding) has been in place in France for at least 10 years. In fact, ten years ago, the next billboard sized speed display would flash your license plate number with a warning message indicating that you were exceeding the speed limit!

  13. and3togo4 says:

    85 mph may be safe when you are able to maintain a safe stopping distance between you and the car ahead. I have been on interstates where the speed went from 75 to 0 in a very short distance. You see multiple car pileups frequently. Some roads are inadequate for the amount of traffic so keeping a distance is impossible. As soon as you open a short distance, some immediately pulls into the space. So you end up traveling 80 mph with two car lengths.

  14. PSUPhil says:

    The ability to issue tickets based on the time taken to travel between exits has been in existence for a long time–it’s called a time stamp.

    If the government wanted to pursue this tactic, they could have just used the time stamp on toll tickets and figured out average speed and issued tickets on the spot.

    Using the EZ pass system just automates the process and would issue more tickets, since average speed wouldn’t get reduced by spending time in line to pay the toll.