COBLE: Best of Times, Worst of Times for American Drivers
Byline: U.S. Rep. Howard Coble
I believe that Charles Dickens would have made a fine member of the United States Congress. Part humorist, part legal mind - he had an extraordinary understanding of human nature. As a youth in North Carolina, I read his books and found them to be an open doorway into a contradictory world. How then, does his writing in any way guide our highway transportation policy in 2014? Maybe it is easier to explain by using one of his quotes from A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness."
During few periods in history have highway transportation science and policy assembled at such an important crossroad. Henry Ford, with his understanding of the modern factory, and the post-war decision by President Eisenhower and Congress to invest in an interstate highway system were both crucial in advancing the availability and efficiency of truck and automobile travel. Today the U.S. can boast that our system, according to Department of Transportation statistics for 2011, handles approximately 253,000,000 registered vehicles. Yet, we are at a point in history where that system may become obsolete within ten years.
Let's look at the best and worst about driving today. Cars and trucks have become highly technological machines that can accomplish amazing goals. Clean diesel trucks are now so efficient they can discharge exhaust that measures cleaner than air drawn into the engine. Vehicles have reached fuel standards so high, they consistently require less each year to reach the same mileage. Natural gas and electric vehicles challenge the dominance of the petroleum engine and are providing comparable alternatives to the use of carbon fuels. Yet our highway, road, and bridge systems have never been in more jeopardy and the Highway Trust Fund is struggling to meet even minimal funding demands. Within weeks, the fund will be depleted if not replenished. Much highway work will come to a stop.
Here is more of the good and bad. Fatalities consistently dropped for a number of years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from approximately 43,000 in 2005 to 32,000 in 2011. This improvement was attributed to safety advances such as airbags, seatbelt usage, crash detection technology, and better methods in construction of vehicles. Recently, those numbers have reversed due to increases in distracted and impaired driving. …