Before There Was a National Speed Limit

Informant: So, this one I heard from an instructor at a summer enrichment class I took right when I was learning to drive–I think you hear this a lot when you’re learning to drive. But I learned later that this is a story that a lot of people tell.

This is a story about the nineteen seventies before there was a national speed limit, because you tell the story when there used to be a national speed limit. So at the time I heard this story, the speed limit was 55. So okay, so the story was told me when the speed limit was 55 and people used to talk about the time before the 55 speed limit like it was the old West. Because in the seventies, the speed limit in a lot of places was 75 even on two lane highwasy

The way I heard this, outside the small town where this person grew up, one semi was trying to pass another semi, so it was on a two lane highway in the passing lane at 80 miles an hour, and it timed the passing wrong and hit another semi head on. Two semis both going 80 miles an hour, which is like hitting a very thick brick wall at 160 mph. They hit sooooo haaaard that the metal of the two cabs fused together. If metal smacks together hard enough, you know, in this story, it does that. So they hosed out the remains of the two drivers as best they could.

Interviewer: Hosed them out?

Informant: Yeah.

And then they left the wreckage of the cabs by the side of the road.

Interviewer: That’s it?

Informant: No. A couple weeks later, the smell of these things got so bad that they decided they had to pull the trucks apart to clean them out better, so I think they used two cranes? But they might have been pulled apart by other trucks. So they pulled the two trucks a part and then, and then they found the station wagon with the mother and her children that had been squashed so flat that nobody realized there was a vehicle between the trucks the whole time.  You also hear this one about cell phones sometimes too, the two truck drivers are texting instead of trying to pass.


This cautionary tale might hint at the amount of time people spend driving, and anxieties about the potential dangers of it, and the necessity of laws to govern the roads we spend so much time on; it might also, as the informant suggests, be employed to put a little fear and respect into inexperienced drivers.