People will never agree what the speed limit should be – which you’d think would raise questions about why there are speed limits at all.
It’s an odd business – this top-down imposition of one-size-fits-all when it’s obvious it fits almost no one. Even the most ardent defender of speed limits is usually guilty of “speeding” – i.e., he at least occasionally drives a little bit faster than whatever the arbitrarily-decreed fastest-allowable speed is. Such people will often defend their “speeding” as being reasonable – while decrying those who “speed” a bit more.
This being as arbitrary a standard as the speed limit, itself.
The great (and late, unfortunately) comedian George Carlin explained it best in one of his rants on the subject: Everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot – and everyone who drives faster, a maniac.
It’s painfully funny – because it touches truth, like a dentist touches a nerve with his drill. We laugh because we are at some level aware of our own idiocy.
This is the art of comedy.
The question isn’t what the speed limit should be. Which is to say: How fast should everyone be allowed to drive?
This size will not fit all. Just as the clothes you wear don’t fit all, either. They fit you. You chose them for that reason. You would not chose clothes that don’t fit you and if someone told you that you had to wear clothes that didn’t fit you then you’d know you were either in boot camp or prison.
The road shouldn’t be like either of those places. When it is like them, the result is frustrating, boring, dangerous – and unjust.
It is frustrating – and boring – to drive at a speed much lower than you can safely drive. And most people know perfectly well what that speed is, already – because that’s how fast they do drive. No matter the speed limit, which they obey only when necessary. Not because they feel the need to – an important difference.
This is actually the way speed limits are supposed to be set, by the way. It is called the 85th Percentile Standard and it is derived by taking note of how fast the majority of drivers naturally drive on a given stretch of road; the posted limit is set such that the majority of drivers aren’t “speeding” or not by much. This is an interesting admission in that it suggest formal speed limits aren’t needed as most drivers will not drive faster than their own limits even if there is no law forbidding it.
Most people have more respect for their safety than the law and when there is a conflict, it is their safety that carries the day.
Of course, everyone has a different gauge as regard what is safe – when it comes to driving and otherwise. Is it safe to go for a five-mile run on a cold winter’s day? Not if you aren’t used to such things and can do them safely. Is it safe to drive faster than whatever the sign says you may? If you can do so safely – if you know the road, know your limits and don’t exceed them – then it may well be. Just as it may well be unsafe for a different person to drive the speed limit, which is above their ability to safely drive.
What’s not safe – for everyone – is expecting everyone to drive the same speed. It engenders the frustration and boredom mentioned above and both of these things are almost certainly greater threats to safety than not minding exactly what the totem pole by the side of the road says.
Bored drivers are inattentive drivers. Their attention wanders – from the road to what’s on the radio. They play with their phones. Cruise control is arguably the most dangerous “safety” device ever installed in a car – after the automatic transmission.
Might as well tuck a pillow behind the driver’s head.
It is asking for trouble. For when attention is needed – as in, right now – it often takes a vital moment or two for the not-paying-attention driver to re-focus it. By which time it is often already too late.
It is difficult to fall asleep when you are occupied – as when actually driving. You necessarily focus on what you are doing when you are driving at a speed that is not boring because it is above the speed you can drive when half-asleep, using your legs to steer. driving faster is safer – for you. Punishing you for it makes about as much sense as punishing someone who works out because he’s in better shape than people who don’t work out.
It is also frustrating – another dangerous thing. Arbitrary speed limits result in inconsiderate driving. In drivers who won’t yield to faster-moving traffic. After all, they will say – I’m doing the speed limit!
Result? Increased tension, generally – also tailgating and swerve-passing. Neither the former nor the latter is justified anymore than obstructing faster-moving traffic – but the point is that mindless reference to the speed limit is what lays down the conditions leading to both. These conditions would largely dissipate if, rather than mindless obedience to speed limits, people practiced mindfulness – and adjusted their driving to syncopate with the ebb and flow of traffic.
But the most destructive consequence of one-size-fits-all is arguably the injustice of the thing. Of punishing people – with “tickets” and insurance premiums jacked up on the basis of such “tickets” – for nothing more than “speeding.” By equating this with dangerousness, which is silly and everyone knows it (they just disagree over the threshold at which “speeding” becomes “dangerous”) as well as unjust by any fair standard.
Whether you feel they might have – and regard that as sufficient – is monstrously unjust because the principle behind it opens pandora’s box to punishing people for any harm someone else feels they might cause.
By now, everyone who is still thinking straight – or even just thinking, at all – ought to be able to see the danger of that.
Which far exceeds the danger of me driving faster than you feel comfortable driving – or the other way around!
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