Lesson #285: The Interstate Straight Mile Myth

This was sort of prompted by a conversation I had with my best friend, who called me today to talk about the possibility of revolution in America. We don’t often share the same intellectual interests, so this caught me a bit off guard. But I’m not going to lie; it was kind of awesome. I don’t find so many opportunities these days to talk about my area of expertise, so when I can dive into revolutionary theory, (even if it’s not about NI,) I’m game. This later descended into a conversation about how if I ever move to Florida, I need to get a Vespa.*

You have almost certainly heard that one mile in ever four (or five, depending on the source) in the US Interstate System is legally required to be straight for the purpose of landing aircraft during an emergency. It’s one of those things that gets passed around in those “fun facts” emails.

And it’s a complete lie.

My mother has a habit of sending me emails like this that show up in her inbox because she knows how much I loathe poor research and that I’ll find out the truth for her. And I think she finds my rants about the idiocy of people who pass on such emails without bothering to fact check funny.**

The interstate myth is one I consistently read in emails, but have never bothered to confirm or refute, so when I came across this article written by a DOT historian, I was highly entertained. I feel this guy’s pain. As historians, we are working with a field about which the average person knows maybe 10% of what he thinks he does. The rest? He learned in an email full of “facts” some jackass made up.

According to the DOT, “airplanes occasionally land on Interstates when no alternative is available in an emergency, not because the Interstates are designed for that purpose.”

*Honestly, it’s best not to think too hard on the conversations we have. They’re informed by the shorthand of our long friendship.

**My habit of fact checking all blurbs like this is actually something that drives my friends a little nuts. They say my schooling has completely removed my ability to accept things at face value, and that’s sort of true, but if you’re telling me the etymology of the word posh is as an acronym meaning “Port Out, Starboard Home” in reference to wealthy English people making trips to and from India, it’s a sure bet I’m going to doubt it until my source is something better than “my friend sitting next to me at the bar,” well-read though he may be.

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