We’ve all already heard it in the news already: Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Inc., was recently pulled over in California for driving at a rate of 104 mph (167 km/h) in his Toyota Prius. You may read the original article by Gary Richards at the San Jose Mercury News website: “Can Prius top 100 mph? Ask Wozniak.” Now, according to the list of speed limits in the United States, Mr. Wozniak was likely in an area where the speed limit was 70 mph, putting him 34 mph above the legal limit and therefore justifying his approximately $700 ticket. I believe Woz’s story of 104 mph (though cops do sometimes get speeds wrong, as in this recent story from my state: “Motorcycle enthusiasts question 205 mph ticket.”) I do not, however, believe Woz’s explanation.
First, let’s cast aside all the “haha, the wimpy Prius can go fast” quips, similar to those put forth by Mr. Richards, Mr. Gruber, and others. Let’s look at the facts. The United States 2007 Toyota Prius spec sheet does not supply the top rated speed of the vehicle. The European spec sheet, however, does. That speed is 106 mph (170km/h). Now, given the fact that European and American specs can differ due to discrepancies in environmental impact regulations and electronic governors, it is helpful to turn to the “HEVAmerica, U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity: Toyota Prius” stats, which report that the top speed reached by a US 2004 Prius after one mile of driving was 104.2 mph. Given that the 2004-2007 Prius body styles are aerodynamically identical, all having a coefficient of drag of 0.26, it is reasonable to assume that the top speed of a US Prius is something like 105 mph, giving Woz about 1 mph of headroom on his claim.
Here’s where things make less sense: Woz, in his “guilty with an excuse” courtroom appearance, declared that his scientifically inclined mind and worldly traveling of late put his mind in kilometers per hour mode. This argument has a modicum of truth in one specific situation: if one is accustomed to fixating on the interior region of the speed limit dial, where the units are kilometers. The problem is, the Prius doesn’t have a speed limit dial. It has a digital readout (image from an Edmunds Prius Gallery) of the current speed, with two digital reminders (odometer and speedometer) that the units are in miles per hour. So, yes, the car could’ve gone that speed and no, I do not believe Woz’s weak excuse.
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