The Secretary of Transportation

Crittenden Automotive LibraryWith Tony Bennett crooning ‘If I Ruled The World’ in the background Bill Crittenden wishes he was Secretary of Transportation in the USA: Weird title, I know. It was inspired by a discussion of CVT gearboxes with DriveWrite’s Geoff Maxted where he said he’d ban them as king and I suggested writing about how he’d rule the roads as king. So while we may assume that CVTs will soon be banned under the forthcoming hypothetical rule of King Geoff I (Hey, less of the hypothetical – It’s only a matter of time. Ed.), he also suggested I come up with the same for the United States.

Well, we don’t have kings here, and I’m not the type to run for President. So if I were Secretary of Transportation, these are the policies I would push for. (I know a lot of these fall outside the jurisdiction of the DOT, but that was just a way to get on the topic of automobile and highway policies in general).

Confederate Flags

First of all, if you fly a Confederate flag from your truck, you should go on a terrorist watch list for flying the flag of a separatist army who fought against the United States for the rights to own other people as property. I’m not saying you can’t fly it, as a matter of fact, I encourage the self-labeling of society’s worst elements. Warnings are helpful.

Oh, but you’re one of those people who say that’s not what it means? Well, if you’re not smart enough to figure out Google, you’re probably not smart enough to pilot a vehicle that has the potential to cause injury or death if misused.

Just saying.

Two Classes of Driving

I’d like to separate driving for enjoyment from commuting. Commuting should be safe, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly. Driving for enjoyment can be dirty and inefficient and a little nuts.

We have a problem with a helluva lot of people driving grossly inefficient vehicles long distances, using large trucks and SUVs to transport little more than a 200-lb. employee and a 5-lb. lunchbox to an office. I get that people enjoy their trucks, but it’s more than pointless when you’re trying to squeeze it through the McDonald’s drive-thru for your morning coffee and McMuffin and sitting in traffic. It’s just dangerous to allow this to happen while the ocean is rising to sink Miami.

Just as states try to discourage damaging behavior and recoup government costs by slapping high taxes on tobacco and alcohol, we should find a way to discourage commuting at 8 miles a gallon.

Of course, at any other time your ability to burn gas and tires would be limited only by your budget, because classic cars and muscle cars and big trucks are a time-honored American tradition. It’s pretty awesome to see museum-quality pieces of American industrial history roll up next to you at a stoplight.

Since a vast majority of miles are rolled while commuting and running errands, a switch to clean vehicle energy for these miles would make enough of an impact to allow driving classic and performance cars for enjoyment to remain untouched.

But if we continue to treat all vehicles and driving the same, the fun cars are going to be dragged down by the regulations on family sedans. The Alfa Romeo 4C is just a taste of a future when V8 engines won’t meet European new car emissions. It’s cool because it’s beautiful and handles well, but it’s no supercar.

Fuel cells on the weekdays, tire-shredding muscle on the weekends for those of us that enjoy it. There’s got to be a way.

Energy and Highways

What about the “longer tailpipe?” The idea that you’re just replacing gasoline combustion under the hood with coal combustion at the power plant? Well, just as the Interstate Highway System was a huge, radical project when it was started, big projects will be needed to make the way we commute sustainable. Prototypes are being worked on for solar roadways – roadways paved with sturdy solar panels, and with the potential of 1-3 acres per mile of highway to repave (depending on widths of 8-24 feet), this epic project could put hundreds of thousands to work, drastically reduce our CO2 output, and completely eliminate our need for foreign energy that we sometimes invade countries and kill people for.

The land of wide median spaces could be used for putting up wind power generators to supplement a system that normally only works well on clear days.

Not every little street can be replaced with expensive solar panels, but major highways and sections of interstate can, especially in warmer southern and southwestern states. There should be enough acreage there to power all those new plug-in cars, and maybe enough left over for our houses and offices.

Think of all those new construction jobs, too.

Foreign Trade Policy

Speaking of putting people to work, we’re playing with a deck stacked against us. We sign trade agreements that set some rules but the fact that we don’t have local ownership rules while other countries do ensures that foreign companies can operate here with little tax burden while our companies have to operate expensive foreign partnerships to do business overseas.

Ending these agreements that are fair on paper but inherently very unfair when they were combined with other laws would help revitalize our automobile manufacturing business. Which we’re going to need as people replace their old gasoline cars with plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars.

I would also adopt a lot of the European and Japanese safety standards to ensure that not only could American cars be exported and sold more easily overseas but American car buyers wouldn’t be so restricted in what cars they could bring here (I’m thinking of you, JDM fans).

Police Cars

Our police cars shouldn’t look like they came off the set of the latest dystopian-police-state Hollywood movie. A Ford C-Max Hybrid should do just fine, because you can’t outrun the Motorola they’re all equipped with. Bonus: the higher roof means fewer arrestees hitting their heads and making accusations.

I’d also be a sneaky bastard and encourage traffic enforcement to drive a lot of unmarked Transit vans, Camrys, Elantras, pickup trucks, and Honda CR-V’s just to make sure that you never know just which car is a police car in traffic. You know how when someone does something stupid in traffic you ask “why is there never a cop around when you need one?” Well, that’s because a lot of shitty drivers DO check their mirrors for white Impalas before doing 30 over, running a light, or passing in a no-passing zone.

Highways as National Parks

Okay, now that the policy veggies are out of the way, here’s the dessert:

While nationwide speed-limit-free autobahn-style highways wouldn’t work well here (German drivers are on average much better trained than American drivers), I would see to it that some speed-limit-free scenic highways were constructed. Maybe 50 or 100 miles long, spaced here and there throughout the country to make them within a day’s drive of anywhere in the contiguous 48 states, and operated as National Parks.

You’d pull up to a toll booth, take a quick breathalyzer, get the once over of your tires from a police officer, get a quick refresher on required lane discipline & passing at high speed from the officer, pay a few bucks, and grab a transponder so they can respond immediately to any accidents. Then you can go blasting through the mountainsides of Appalachia or through a forest in the Pacific Northwest or along a curving Midwestern river as fast as your car can go. Drop off the transponder at the other end, and you’re back out on the regular highway.

Presidential Limousine

Our Presidential limousine is called “The Beast.” It’s a heavily modified diesel Chevrolet truck chassis with a custom body and enough Cadillac trim pieces to make it recognizable as a Cadillac car. It’s horribly inefficient for a road vehicle, but necessary for driving among such a well-armed populace.

Then there’s”>Ground Force One, a fully loaded and secure presidential bus for longer tours and making a lot of campaign stops. As much diesel as each chugs, along with support vehicles, driving has still got to be much more cost efficient than Air Force One. I think the President should take a few road trips while in office. Get out among the people. Wouldn’t it be the highlight of any road trip to see The Beast pull up alongside?

Ground Force One should be repainted to resemble Air Force One, though. It just has to be.
-Bill Crittenden
Owner, The Crittenden Automotive Library @