Many of us have come to view traffic cops as little better than armed tax collectors deployed to fleece motorists for the benefit of state/local government.
Fixing the system – and restoring a mutually respectful relationship between the average citizen and police will require a change in attitudes and a shift in enforcement that focuses on identifying bad/dangerous drivers and getting them off the road – and leaving everyone else alone.
Some steps in the right direction would include:
* Take the profit motive out of traffic enforcement –
All funds raised via traffic fines should go to some third party purpose such as a charity – and not to fund the operations of state/local government or (much worse) the cops themselves. This would remove the financial incentive to use police as tax collectors. And it would eliminate one of the main reasons for public cynicism and contempt for traffic enforcement.
* Set reasonable traffic laws –
No more arbitrary or artificially low speed limits. Speed limits should be set by highway safety engineers, not government bureaucrats, and in accordance with the 85th percentile rule. That means doing a traffic survey – noting what the natural flow of traffic is on any given stretch of road – and setting the limit about 10-15 MPH higher than the average. Right now, most roads have limits that comport with the “slow average” speed of traffic – in effect, turning almost every driver on the road into a lawbreaking “speeder” subject to a ticket. It’s an outrage and worse, a ridiculous outrage. Excepting Prohibition back in the 1920s, few laws have ever been so casually, so routinely, ignored by a majority of citizens – who are otherwise law-abiding and reasonable people. Either they somehow morph into unreasonable people when they get behind the wheel, or the laws about speeding are themselves unreasonable – and absurd.
Speed limits should be just that – maximum safe limits. Not routine/average traveling speeds. If speed limits were set appropriately, most drivers would not be “speeding.” Which is probably why current speed limits are set they way they are. It maximizes the pool of potential victims.
* Shift the emphasis from enforcement of “technical fouls” to going after actually dangerous driving –
For example, instead of harassing people for driving faster than a posted limit, how about targeting objectively dangerous drivers such as tailgaters, who currently face almost no risk of being ticketed? Or people who hog the passing lane on the highway, refusing to yield to faster-moving traffic? And the obviously past-it elderly driver who wanders across the double yellow or drives 20 MPH below the flow of traffic?
These are just few examples of objectively dangerous driving that gets little, if any, attention from cops. Apparently is is easier – and more profitable – to man a radar gun on some broad avenue where almost every single car is “speeding” because the limit is set so absurdly low.
It’d be more effective to have cops patrol the roads looking for actual bad driving – if traffic safety rather than revenue enhancement – were the real goal.
* No more “points” for “violations” that have nothing to do with your driving –
It used to be that you only got hit with DMV “points” – the system of demerits used by the insurance industry to jack up your premiums – if you were convicted of something that at least in theory implied your driving could stand improvement. But nowadays, you can get hit with DMV points for driving in the carpool lanes solo – or failing to “buckle up.” Such things may be illegal but do they have anything to do with your competence behind the wheel?
Demerits – and the insurance surcharges that accompany them – ought to be levied only when the driver has been convicted of some offense that objectively correlates with unsafe driving practices. Examples include driving drunk, or being the cause of an accident as a result of inattentiveness or excessive speed for the situation. Otherwise, enough with the “points.” Fining people over trumped-up technical fouls is bad enough. Having to cough up your money ought to be the end of it. People shouldn’t be tagged with points that follow them around like a Scarlet Letter for years – and be made to pay for years, too.
* Base traffic enforcement on the concept of “at fault” –
Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes safe vs. dangerous driving but there is one objective standard we should all be able to agree on: If a driver never causes an accident then by definition he is a safe driver. Contrariwise, a driver who causes an accident is by definition not a safe driver.
Chuck all this stuff about “speeding” and everything else, too. If a driver never leaves the road, never hits anything or hurts anyone else then he ought to be left alone – even if he’s driving faster than you like. The fact may be he’s a much higher-skilled driver than you are – and a speed that is not comfortable for you is easy meat for him. Under our current system we assume a dumbed-down average and base enforcement on that very low standard. A better way would be to leave people alone until their driving actually causes a problem. Some – the Clovers out there – will say this is too dangerous, that it’s better to try to prevent the possibility of injury and damage by assuming what amounts to a very low (and pre-emptive) standard. But this just leades to more dumbing-down and more cynicism and more corruption of enforcement. Most people effectively self-police in other areas of their lives and most people also drive reasonably and within their limits and comfort zone. Those who don’t – and cause problems for others – could and should be dealt with harshly. And fairly – because they’d actually be guilty of having done something (other than violate some arbitrary, least-common-denominator-based edict).
Meanwhile, the rest of us could go about our business in peace, without having to live in constant fear of The Law.
Wouldn’t it be nice?
Holy Crap !! That might be one of the most intelligent articles I’ve read in recent years…
Which of course, makes me say….Right, dream on….
I just finished your article “Wouldn’t it be nice” and just loved it. Your points are right on target and prove the age old adage of “follow the money”. If local police precincts need more money then try cutting your costs instead of going to the tax payer for your short comings.
When I was younger I used to look at a policeman as someone who would “protect” and “serve” the public. Now the’re nothing more than a bunch of two bit shake down artists looking for the slightest hint of an infraction against their precious law. They have become nothing more than highway janitors in my book.
Eric, thanks for your columns which appear regularly in LRC – which is the web site I wake up to every morning.
One week in Sicily totally changed my driving perspective and habits. I have become very impatient with American drivers especially those not paying attention. On all Italian expressways the rule is drive right pass left – no exceptions. And if you’re going to pass someone get into the passing lane and git ‘r done. I once lingered in the passing lane too long and was startled by the incessant and excited flashing of approaching headlights in my rear view mirror. Our car rocked as the oncoming rocket blew by – I was going 85 at the time. Speed signs in Sicily seem more of a suggestion than a rule.
My experience with Italian drivers is that they are very good drivers. When they get in a car it’s to go somewhere as quickly and expediently as possible. They are attentive and impatient. Hesitation draws sudden encouragement from a beeping horn.
I found the round-abouts a bit daunting at first and later wondered why we don’t use more of them here – they are so efficient at keeping traffic moving. One rarely has to come to a complete stop.
Sicilians use all of the road – the white line down the center is called the Honda lane. On heavily traveled two lane roads, which are most roads, you don’t crowd the center line because that is where the scooters travel. One must be very attentive while driving because you will find them everywhere including passing on the right side as well if the rider thinks he can make it.
Rome expressways and restricted areas were a different story, photo cameras everywhere and they have up to three years to process your violation. I read of one American who received a total of $1,200 in fines for repeatedly driving in restricted areas two years after his return to the states.
Prior to our departure all we heard about was how bad the Italian drivers were but I absolutely enjoyed driving in Italy.
And: I’ve experienced the same (in Germany and Switzerland ) and it helped to clarify my thinking about driving – and driving laws. Our system assumes a very low level of competence – aka Cloverism – which just reinforces incompetence and encourages more incompetence (and of course, more laws touted as necessary to deal with/protect against these least-common-denominator Clover drivers). It is very frustrating if you’re even a moderately skilled driver. I would bet that at least 40 (and possibly as high as 60) percent of all currently licensed American drivers would fail the new driver licensing/road test they have in Germany…
American drivers completely suck, no doubt. It’s totally out of control. Every single time I drive I encounter multiple clovers! I’ll just use my drive home, ending the week Thursday evening, as an example. It was about 10pm and I just finished exercising and was on my way home. It started raining hard and a lot of people, for some completely fucking unknown reason to me, turn on their hazard lights on and crawl down the highway. Personally, I don’t give a shit about their hazards lights being on as long as they don’t block the road. Of course they do! So there I am driving home in the rain having to weave in and out of assholes running their hazard lights on and completely blocking all lanes. Move over clover! I mean damn. If you feel uncomfortable going at speed move the hell over. If you feel you can’t drive safe, pull over. DON’T BLOCK THE FUCKING FAST LANE! Really that hard?
You are right on the money. I was fortunate enough to grow up with dirt roads and cars with manual steering, brakes, and transmissions. Many a fun day was spent drifting cars around turns, intentional spins, play racing, etc. I’ve had a multitude of speeding tickets in my 40+ years of driving, and got one just recently, but I’ve never been involved in an accident on the road.
Went to court one time for reckless driving and argued with the judge that although I was well over the speed limit, I was in complete control of the vehicle, that the road and weather conditions were perfect, no other traffic, and therefore I was not behaving recklessly. He leaned over the bench and said, “Mr. Jeffreys….you do believe in the speed limit don’t you?” It was either say “Yes sir” or go to jail, so I acquiesced.
Thanks – and, “been there/done that” myself… Debasing oneself before the court in order to play their little game they way they expect it t be played is one of the many loathsome things about the system we have. I’d much prefer a straightforward stick-up.
Perfect place to lead into another classic from an earlier more sane era of driving… http://www.archive.org/details/wreckless
Essentially cop jails a driver for reckless driving… court argument that he was in complete control because of the new chevy he was driving… No speed limit issue… because apparently this new road in the 1930s didn’t have one.
Brent is right–it reminds me of this quote from Atlas Shrugged:
“Did you really think we want those laws observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them to be broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against… We’re after power and we mean it… There’s no way to rule innocent men.
The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt.
Now that’s the system, Mr. Reardon, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”
(‘Atlas Shrugged’ 1957)
The problem, as always, are the sheeple–like Clover. It is possible to roll back government intrusion–just look at the defeat of gun control over the past 20 years. If enough people are willing to put the pressure on, progress can be made. I can see that here in the PRI (People’s Republic of Illinois)– seat belt laws are enforced with Nazi ferocity, but there is no motorcycle helmet law at all. That’s because ABATE members make it clear that there will be consequences for any legislator voting in favor of one.
The state is the ultimate bully, they are cowards in the end. They will back down if enough people forcefully confront them.
I drove up to a ‘safety checkpoint’ first thing in the morning on the way to work about two months ago. I was on my motorcycle and my tags were expired by 11 days. They made me pull over and wait about 45 minutes to receive my ticket. I ended up paying almost $100 in fines plus the cost of the registration. The fines are published to the Virginia Courts website and is all automated. I was shocked to discover Virginia has changed the laws and now charges court costs for these types of infractions. Anyhow, I called up the court house to confirm and the lady on the phone say it was correct. What a fucking gimmick!
Yup – they usually get you on “court costs” even if you are found innocent by some miracle – so either way, they get their money.
Your point about gun control cheers me up … a little. This is one of the very few areas where real freedom has been won back (Clovers notwithstanding). So perhaps there is some hope. But I doubt it, because the ranks of Clovers are increasing every year while there are fewer non-Clovers in the fight. Even on guns. All it will take, I suspect, is some new bogeyman (a Terrah Attack, say) and they’ll pass a new law and the flag-wavers will snap to attention and do what they are told…
Ja, you betcha it would be nice!
I’m probably no. 842 to say this, but I enjoy your columns. You’re living my dream of being published on Lew Rockwell, where I read this.
Your five suggestions are eminently reasonable, but given the nature of government as such, likely to be implemented only after the proverbial pigs fly. An excellent short introduction to the impossibility of good government over time is a lecture by Hans-Hermann Hoppe (http://www.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe26.1.html).
Government is all about the profit motive, and traffic “technical fouls” (that term hits it on the head) mean profits. (I remember hearing a police officer argue that government loses money when a police officer has to testify in traffic court; I didn’t know enough at the time to say the officer is paid the same for doing nothing valuable whether he’s in court or out patrolling.) Your other four suggestions flow naturally from the first and so will never be implemented by government.
However, your ideas would probably prevail on private road. A scholarly argument for private roads and hypotheses on how they would work is available free at http://mises.org/books/roads_web.pdf.
Finally, here is my attempt to get the word out: http://quillpigchronicles.blogspot.com/2010/11/anarchy-on-highway-on-guy-fawkes-day.html. I didn’t call my villains Clovers, but you’ll recognize them.
Thanks again for your good work.
Your comments about the speed limits are spot on.
That Federally mandated 55 mph speed limit was a real money maker.
Yeah, it would be nice. I’ve come to accept the only change that is possible with our government will ALWAYS for the worse.
Reason? The Clovers are breeding and feeding…
/If tickets are taxes then I do not [pay] those taxes./
I am assuming you are missing the word pay. By your comment, I am also assuming that you live in Virginia.
Traffic infractions can be used to help raise funds without the need to raise taxes and/or fees. If it does not show up on a tax bill or a user fee, then it is more palatable for politicians wanting to win the election.
It may be more palatable and it may be accepted by the boobus, but only because they believe that the cops only ticket “bad” people. Every so often there’s a story in the media featuring these poor “good” people that were ticketed for the pet reason of the moment by cops and how horrible it is. Then the police departments back off and move their concentration back to ticketing people who can’t get that sort of social support.
If it’s a tax you don’t pay it is because you don’t drive a car cops are jealous of, you look poor enough to take advantage of, but still able to pay the ticket, are of a particular racial group, or something else that makes you a viable target.
Ultimately I believe the idea is to take the limits off government by turning everyone into a violator of the law. Once people are conditioned enough, the government strong enough, it will apply all these laws to the “good” people in volume.
It’s a tax on the illiterate/innumerate people.
This amounts to: The laws are always right – because they’re the law! – therefore, to violate the law is by definition morally wrong (as well as illegal) and so, any punishments are morally justified. Therefore, people who get punished deserve what they get.
This is 100 proof Cloverism.
Gil, the laws are not always right. Hence, punishments for violating said laws can be wrong (unjust).
Traffic law/enforcement is enormously cynical – and corrupt. Think about it. Cops/government have a profit motive to “catch speeders.” But there is no profit involved in going after rapists or thieves or murderers.
Thanks for the article.
It would be nice if these LEOs were in my neck of the woods.
Police around here rarely give warnings.
Careful feeding the Troll….
Speaking of facts.. Check out the new search feature that’s been added!
Can you come up with some facts on that statement? De Troof and fact, too?