The single-minded obsession – in some small-minded quarters – with “speeding” is an interesting one. In part because it’s so bereft of any objective definition beyond what the person complaining about “speeders” considers to be “speeding” – usually defined by him as anything faster than whatever speed he is comfortable driving.
Well, there is the legal definition. Which is objective – in a completely arbitrary way.
“Speeding” being defined under the law as driving any faster than whatever the arbitrary number on the sign says is the maximum permissible speed. Many people mistakenly equate this with the maximum safe speed and consider that anyone who drives any faster is driving “unsafely,” by definition.
Such “speeders” are more than merely deserving of punishment. They are bad people.
So the argument goes. It is the basis for all speed traps, “points” and insurance premium “adjustments” that follow.
But is there any evidence to support this business – as a moral question?
The usual answer given is that yes there is because the faster the speed the less time there is to brake and to react generally. Also that impact forces increase with speed. This is all perfectly true.
The fallacy which forms the basis of the “speed kills” position is that driving faster than the posted speed limit – whatever it is – necessarily correlates with increased odds of having an accident. That it is objectively dangerous to drive any faster than whatever the number on the signs says is permissible, ever. This then forms the moral basis for condemning those who “speed” as recklessly risking life and limb – their own and those of others.
But how to account for arbitrarily changing speed limits?
Was the previously legal speed limit – which was higher than the current speed limit – an “unsafe” speed to drive? If it was – as is implicit in changing the speed limit to a lower speed – then how can it be said the new speed limit is the “safe” speed?
Well, a standard other than arbitrarily changing legal-illegal velocity maximums.
Perhaps the best-known example of this being the arbitrary reduction of highway speed limits from 65-70 to 55, nationally, back in the mid-1970s and lingering well into the 1990s. It is not possible to coherently maintain that it was “safe” to drive 65 or 70 MPH the day before the signs were changed to read 55 MPH – but not “safe” to drive any faster than 55 MPH on those same roads the next day.
If there was anything good about the almost two decades of “Drive 55” it was that it made plain the injustice of arbitrarily changing speed limits. But it goes deeper than that. It is not the arbitrary setting – or changing – of speed limits that is the primary injustice.
It is speed limits, as such.
The late and very great Brock Yates challenged the dogma of the “speed kills” cult by proving that “speeding” can be quite safe – when it is performed by a competent driver who knows how to handle it.
This was the point he was trying to make with the Cannonball Run, later turned into a parody-comedy movie that was fun to watch but missed the point, entirely.
Yates and a few picked men – all of them known to one another as skilled behind the wheel – saddled up in various kinds of cars to see who could get from downtown Manhattan to the beaches of southern California the fastest. The winners – Yates and Dan Gurney – made it there in just shy of 35 hours in a Ferrari Daytona. To do that, they had to ignore every speed limit on the books, averaging in excess of 90 MPH.
According to the “speed kills” crowd at least someone should have been killed. It is several thousand miles from the Red Ball Garage on East 31st street in Manhattan to the parking lot of the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, LA.
And yet, no one was. No Yates or Gurney. Not anyone else, either.
The same’s true for most people who “speed” – which is practically everyone, practically all the time. The degree of their “speeding” varies – but if the assertion is that the maximum permissible speed is also always and absolutely the maximum safe speed then why does most “speeding” occur without incident?
This fact stands athwart the myopic and simplistic assertion that “speeding” is the determinative – or even correlative – factor in accidents.
It is a simplistic and loosey-goosey association based on the exclusion of the determinative factor – the driver. It is not “speeding” that is always and necessarily “unsafe.”
Loss of control is.
And that can (and does) happen at any speed – if the driver isn’t much of one.
Yates and Gurney were great drivers. One cannot attribute to endless good luck their perfect record of not killing anyone – themselves included. Most “speeders” know the truth of this as well – including the cops who write “speeding” tickets all day long. Who “speed” themselves – often, in pursuit of “speeders.”
The “speed kills” cult is of a piece with – it is the intellectual forbear of – the Cult of Sickness Eternal. Which just as myopically and just as simplistically and just as obstinately sees nothing but “masks” and Jabs as the only determinative factors in the spread of sickness. Never mind the tsunami of evidence to the contrary.
Interestingly, both cults seem to enjoy punishing those who do not believe – and even more so, those who do not obey.This doesn’t make them right.
It makes them stupid – and cruel.
. . .
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