Reader Question: Speed Limits?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Tom asks: First, a definition: The 85th Percentile Speed. The speed at or below which 85 percent of drivers travel on a stretch of open clear highway. It is the safest speed with the most compliance. Would I be in the ballpark to say that the 85th Percentile Speed is a Natural Law of Driving? An FHwA  study found that 90% of the time posted limits are between 8 and 16 MPH below the 85th Percentile Speed (to facilitate the enforcement-for-profit racket sweeping the nation-my note).

My reply: To paraphrase something Churchill supposedly said… the 85th percentile speed is the worst speed limit… except for all the others. I personally – because morally – would prefer no speed limits at all; I’d rather speed advisories.

Speed limits are inherently generic and one-size-fits-all. I see no reason to punish a high-skill driver merely for driving faster than whatever a sign says is legal. He may be operating well within his own limits and in better control of his car than the low-skilled driver hewing to the speed limit. I’ve come to know many race drivers and instructors over the years; I’d rather encounter any of these at 120 MPH than I would my ex wife or her mom doing the speed limit.

Speed advisories make sense to me because they inform rather than punish; they can be very helpful to a driver not familiar with a given stretch of road.

How about we leave people be unless they cause harm?

If someone causes an accident, that is objective evidence that he was not in control of his vehicle and ought to be held responsible for harms caused. But a driver who has not caused any harm ought not to be punished because someone feels he “might,” because they feel he is driving “too fast.”

Using that arbitrary and subjective standard, it would be legitimate to punish people for all kinds of things they do which haven’t hurt anyone but … might.

That leads to a busybody nation of empowered control freaks.

Which, unsurprisingly, is just what we’ve got!

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. A speed limit was supposed to be something used as an advisory when it was needed. That is to alert a motorist to something that wasn’t readily apparent. And this would work if we only saw the signs when there was something to slow down for or at the very least if they always made sense (85th percentile rounded -up- to the nearest 5mph increment). When speed limits began to be used for revenue and control they lost their original meaning.

  2. I propose something different. On limited access highways operating at Level of Service A/B, advisory limits only. On urban limited access highways, 85th percentile speed limits. On rural non interstate 4 lane roads at LOS A, no speed limit. LOS B or below, 85th percentile limits. Urban roads, 85th percentile speed limits. That would basically erase all speed traps and get a decent speed limit compliance all the way around.

  3. Problem is some limits refuse to change with the times *cough*jersey*cough*, where 98% of new cars can easily cruise at 80.

    Sucks the fun out of driving to have to go slow cause of Saaaaaaaaaaaaafety plus hut!hut!hutted! by an AGW cause you didn’t respect his authoritah!

    We need an American Autobahn, sadly only Cali is considering it, while NYC they’re considering closing down even more streets for “Bicyclists” and “Bus” (Aka Domestic Terrorists)

    It’s a shame, though always offroading to compensate for speed limits

  4. Morning Eric,

    “I personally – because morally – would prefer no speed limits at all; I’d rather speed advisories”.

    As do I, and still do. Before so many cops became steroid addled soldier wannabees, chosen for low IQ and high aggressiveness, I thought this was feasible and even politically possible. Back then I was still a minarchist and harbored the romantic and naive idea that many in GovCo were sincere, just misinformed. The idea was to eliminate speed limits, checkpoints, speed traps and “hiding”, which would allow for more cops actually driving the streets openly. Cops would have the authority to pull people over for driving “recklessly”, but be constrained by sensible and reasonably objective criteria for determining what is reckless driving. This, coupled with cops openly cruising the streets (hiding is proof that their primary concern is for revenue generation, not safety), would likely result in faster and safer streets.

    Alas, such a system is only possible if the “enforcers” act in good faith, are genuinely concerned with safety, and if those who abuse their authority are quickly and consistently punished. In other words, it’s not possible, but it is a nice fantasy.


  5. What about two lane roads though? You might be able to drive it at 80 or 100 because your skill and your vehicle will allow it, while someone driving, say, a heavily laden truck may be fortunate to do half of that. On multi-lane roads (such as Interstates or the Autobahn), I have no problem with no limits because slower vehicles have somewhere to go and get out of the way.

    • Side traffic is sometimes a big issue on two lane roads. Not to mention cows loose in the right of way, wildlife, fallen rocks, and slow moving farm equipment being moved on the road.

      For sure the “safe” speed isn’t the same for every vehicle or every driver. A small and light car can slow down or stop a lot faster than a one ton pickup with a loaded gooseneck.

      Advisory speeds make a lot of sense. Funny thing: if you wreck then you were obviously going too fast for conditions, but if you don’t wreck then one could assume the speed was “safe” – LOL

      • Not to mention the bicyclists who “have a right” to everything bar an outright interstate freeway (and that too, if it’s the only convenient way to reach a given destination, and also sometimes if it isn’t) and will not be constrained by any form of common sense in their exercise thereof.


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