Reader Question: Speed Limits for the Limited?

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

Bill writes: Per your recent article

Unfortunately, the speed limits have to be set to take into account the drivers that don’t know what they don’t know, driving way above their skill level, and way too fast for conditions. The sad fact is 30 percent of the population has no real conception of how to drive appropriately. For example, residential speed limits where I live are typically 25 miles per hour. There are mothers walking their babies, small children riding bicycles, older people out for walks, etc. You and I both know how to drive an appropriate speed so when the unexpected child pops out of nowhere we are ready. This 30 percent of the population I speak of are not smart enough to understand going 60 mph down a residential street is not appropriate. I see a certain percentage of them going 60 mph anyway, regardless of the posted speed limit. They are a clear and very real danger to themselves and everyone around them. They are traveling well beyond a speed where they could take any sort of corrective action to avoid disaster.How would you suggest dealing with this?

My reply: Well, let’s begin with what you’ve already conceded!

“I see a certain percentage of them going 60 mph anyway, regardless of the posted speed limit.”


Ergo, what is the point of these limits? Certainly, you can “ticket” these people. But does it stop them? You’ve acknowledged that it does not. Just as “gun control” mostly only controls the people who don’t need to be “controlled.”

I believe that control is neither possible – nor desirable. In the first place, there will always be people who are uncontrollable. In the second, control will be applied to everyone, preemptively and presumptively.


Indeed, this is exactly the case with regard to speed limits. Everyone who drives faster than the posted limit is presumed to be “dangerous.” They are subject to punishment even though they have caused no harm. And almost everyone is subject to punishment because the posted speed limits are set at the least-common-denominator level (or even lower).

Why should driver X – who is skilled and in full control of his car – be punished solely because he is driving his car faster than a speed limit based on the lack of skill of driver Y?

Should swimming pool deep ends be outlawed? Or is it better that those who can swim be left free to swim in the deep end while those who can’t remain where they can stand?

. . . .

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  1. A lot of people out there are stupid. There is no cure for this, not even if you restrict and hobble everyone so as to prevent the stupid ones from causing harm, because not only is it unfair to everyone else, but it rarely stops the stupid from doing stupid things.

    My sister knew this asshole who was doing 90MPH on service rd. in a suburban neighborhood. The road was lined with houses, parked cars and intersecting streets. The asshole couldn’t understand why he was declared to be at-fault when someone else pulled out of a side street causing him to T-bone them. The concept that the poor guy did not have enough sight distance with the parked cars and topography to ever see a 90MPH car coming at him.

    Why not impose severe penalties on the asshole, instead of treating it like any other accident, and instead of imposing penalties on those who have caused no harm to anyone? (I believe the innocent party in that accident was either severely injured or killed). Unfortunately, there is very little difference in the ‘eyes of the law’ between someone who does 90 and causes no harm, and someone who does 90 and kills someone…as long as they have insurance and aren’t DUI. In-fact, a person doing 90 who is declared to be DUI but harms no one will be in more trouble than the non-DUI who severely injures/kills someone. That is sick. When increase penalties…it usually affects far more people who do no actual harm than the minority who do.

    Then they wonder why this shit doesn’t work- as they keep restricting everything to the point of absurdity so that pretty soon it will be no more worthwhile to drive than to ride a bicycle.

  2. Well, here’s a thought that I’ve seen implemented in some neighborhoods – speed bumps. You want to slow them down because you don’t want them to hit your kid on a bicycle or your dog that got loose? Put in speed bumps. Get the neighborhood together to chip in and have them installed. What? you really thought the “city” – us, basically – was going to pay for your speed bumps? Aren’t willing to spring for speed control devices to make your neighborhood safer? Then if you ask me, you don’t have too much right to complain. Take care of your own neighborhood and I’ll take care of mine.

  3. I think the pool analogy doesn’t quite fit, because I can voluntarily choose not to go into the deep end, whereas choosing to stay away from the streets is not practical. I suppose you could have the police arrest the 15% that are truly driving too fast for conditions and therefore endangering others, but that becomes a subjective decision on the officer’s part. Not sure there’s an easy answer. You also have the 90 year old driver, clinging to their license. Speed limits can be set absurdly low, and I see that often, so I’m not in total disagreement with you.

    • Hi William,

      There is an assumption that ought to be questioned – which is that risk can be eliminated. Of course this is impossible. There will always be people who drive recklessly – or who just can’t drive. Laws or not.

      I much prefer, therefore, to base things on the objective standard of harm caused. If someone has caused harm, hold them accountable. But don’t “hold accountable” people who’ve caused no harm.

      I’d rather live with hypothetical risks – usually slight – than certain harm (i.e., general pubishments/restrictions applied on the principle that harm might result).

      • Eric,

        Though I already made this point elsewhere, I’ll repeat it here: there are certain harms that, once done, cannot be undone. If someone does 60 in a residential area and kills a kid, what then? It’s all well and good to say no harm/no foul, but what do you say to the parent who lost their kid? What can ever make them whole?

        The fact of the matter is that we, as humans, have a sin nature; we’re not inherently good, nor will we do good without solid instruction when we’re young. So, if someone is caught doing 60 in a 20 or 25, then hit ’em with a lot of points; hit ’em with a hefty fine; and hit ’em with a heavy insurance surcharge. Let ’em know WHY they’re being punished, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll think twice before doing 60 in a 25 next time. Again, no harm/no foul sounds good in theory, but certain harms cannot be undone. The time to do something is BEFORE permanent harm occurs…

        • Mark,

          But you know as well as I that if the principle you espouse is accepted then it will not be just “…hit ’em with a lot of points; hit ’em with a hefty fine; and hit ’em with a heavy insurance surcharge ” for doing 60 in a 20. I will be the same – for 70 in a 55 (underposted). It is the same. How many tickets have you received that you know were just excuses to extort you?

          Even some 20-25 zones are absurd, too – as you know.

          The issue here is who gets to decide what the “safe” speed is? The driver – or the government? I’ll go with letting the driver decide – even if he decides poorly. After all, he is just one driver – and even a reckless one threatens me a great deal less than government.


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