Complacency has settled into Southern California again, just as I suspected it would.

Twenty months ago, our nation faced a crisis of soaring gasoline prices exceeding $4.50 a gallon at most L.A. service stations. Since then, pump prices have declined to under $3 a gallon and our resolve to conserve has also gone down.

Twenty months ago we heard and read a lot about busing, carpooling, rail lines and other methods of transportation. Record numbers of commuters in Los Angeles abandoned their cars and traveled to work utilizing our area’s burgeoning rail network. People really cared about conserving energy because gas prices dictated it. It felt as though a crisis had taken hold of society and L.A.’s streets. But, the tune is different 20 months later and a $1.50 a gallon cheaper.

Today, white, black and blue SUVs are back on roads and highways en masse. The red and yellow Corvettes and Mustangs are at it again, too.

A generation ago, during the oil crisis of 1979, we were also frightened about high gas prices. The public’s clamor for fuel-efficient cars was louder than ever. That crisis demanded action and Detroit listened to us. New lines of fuel-efficient cars were brought to market (like Chrysler’s K cars) to supply a scared public’s demand. Speed limits were reduced from 70 mph to 55 mph on most of our country’s and cities’ freeways to extend auto mileage. It seemed to me in the late ’70s that few dared to cross the 60 mph barrier for fear of getting dirty looks and responses from other motorists who were chipping in to conserve. It also appeared that the CHP was lurking around every twisted highway bend. Back then, motorists, collectively, seemed to be very conscious of the fuel crisis and the need to conserve; to abide by highway rules. Times are certainly different in 2010.

Today, as I travel L.A.’s freeways I notice a lot of speeding going on; much more so than decades before. And I don’t think I notice it because I’m 51 years old and more mature or cautious than in my early 20s. The times I find cars flying by are on Saturday and Sunday mornings when traffic is sparse. It’s nearly impossible to speed during daily rush hours – there’s just too much gridlock. Traveling south on the 405 on weekends, which I customarily do, is a dangerous proposition. Undoubtedly, the 5, 10, 101 and 134 freeways are the same. Time after time and morning after morning, SUVs barrel by going 85 mph to 90 mph. Seventy-five seems to be the norm in the fast lane these days. Now, I’m a 65-to-70 kind of guy and the speeding, weaving, lane-changing and tailgating that goes on bewilders, annoys and scares me.

Buzzing by me

I’ll glance left or right through my windshield, and I’ll see many moms and dads buzzing by me in SUVs traveling at 85 filled with a car pool of kids. Undoubtedly, these are soccer, baseball or basketball parents running slightly behind schedule; hockey moms, too. My little two-door red car doesn’t stand a chance against these three-ton flying objects. Parents, as I see it, should just set their alarm clocks earlier, walk out of their homes sooner, drive slower and not jeopardize the lives of others.

Of course, many others speed, too, and some just for the thrill of it. Fuel conservation these days seems like a distant memory.

Today, the other problem is I rarely notice enough CHP vehicles staked out during those hours when speeding is rampant. There just doesn’t appear to be sufficient manpower on patrol. If enough speed traps were set up on Saturday and Sunday mornings along the 405 and other freeways, I’m convinced we could have a balanced state budget.

Today, the issue isn’t about the lack of supervision and law enforcement of our roads. Today, the problem is our nation’s and cities’ complacency toward conservation has returned over the last 20 months with cheaper pump prices. The signs are apparent: There’s little chatter about light-rail line use, the SUVs and other gas-guzzlers are back at it again, and there’s seemingly a lack of regard to posted speed limits and safety.

It seems to me we’ll need to face another big-time oil crisis to slow down and conserve; to focus on changing our transportation methods in a big way. I just wonder how much slower our freeways and highways will be when gas hits $6 a gallon during that next crisis. Let’s just hope next time, when that trouble ends, we don’t become as complacent as we are today.

Ted Lux has been involved in real estate lending in the L.A. area for more than 20 years. He also writes about business and societal matters. He is author of the investment book “Exposing the Wheel Spin on Wall Street.”

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