I set myself up for a problem. I made a plan to drive 3,000 miles from my home outside of Philadelphia to Seattle, WA. Then I remembered: I hate to drive!
As I've related in a number of posts, including What Me Worry? I believe the biggest threat to our everyday health and safety is not high fat or cholesterol, not a lack of exercise, not the prospect of Iran or North Korea developing a nuclear bomb. It's the danger posed to each and every one of us when we innocently climb into our cars and drive out onto the road.
I'm used to making long trips up and down the East Coast on I95, which is the Wild West of interstates. People speed, tailgate, pass on the right, change lanes without signaling -- and they do it all in heavy traffic and possibly talking on the phone. It's not unusual to see a line of six or eight cars in the left-hand lane, all going 70 or 75 mph, and all about five feet apart. They're just asking for trouble, aren't they?
Well, after driving a little over 700 miles through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, I can report that Midwest drivers are a little more courteous. And perhaps a little smarter. They don't speed as much, don't tailgate as much. They're simply not as aggressive.
Except for the trucks. And it's not just the semis that barrel downhill at 80 mph, it's the pickups as well. Any number of times I've looked in my rear-view mirror to see the grille of a pickup looming up behind me, only a few feet from the back of my car, before it swerves out to the left to pass me by.
Also, the traffic mix is a little different. In the Midwest at least half of the traffic consists of trucks, of one sort or another. Most of the rest are SUVs of one sort or another.
I feel a little out of place in my Honda sedan. But then I pass the big Exxon and Shell signs posting gas at 3.09 a gallon, and I'm glad I'm getting 30 miles per gallon ... actually, better than that on the highway. (It also helps that I don't go 70 or 75 mph, which eats up gas at a faster rate.)
Ford, with its impeccable timing, just announced that it will no longer produce passenger sedans in this country -- with the exception of the budget car Focus and the muscle car Mustang -- preferring to concentrate its efforts on "better selling" trucks and SUVs. Of course, Ford is probably right in projecting high SUV sales when gas is selling at $2.00 or $2.50 a gallon. But what about when gas is $3.00 or $3.50 a gallon, or possibly more?
I myself have always resisted the siren call of the SUV. I don't think they're any safer than a solid IIHS five-star- rated passenger car, and even the new, smaller ones use up more gasoline. And if you're worried about global warming (as I am) you don't want to use up more gasoline.
I am one of those in favor of raising the gasoline tax, which has been set at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. Accounting for inflation, that tax is about half of what it was 25 years ago.
I saw former PA Governor Ed Rendell (Dem.) and former U. S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood (Rep.) on TV the other day, pushing for a higher gas tax to fund improvements in our infrastructure. I think it's a good idea. It might help us repave some roads, rebuild a few bridges, and modernize airports and other public transportation. And it might just help save the planet too.