A Matter of Time (and Distance)

@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.

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