05 March 2006

The Hypocrisy of Speed Limits

No one drives the speed limit. Usually, it isn't enforced. But, cops can fine you for driving above it, and these stops also often form a basis for stops motivated by something other than speed (like race). Shane Church has pointed out for me a documentary, "A Meditation on the Speed Limit," that illustrates this truism graphically.

In four cars, on all four lanes, the students from Georgia State University and other local colleges paced the entire midmorning flow of Perimeter traffic behind them at 55 mph for half an hour. . . . The money shot, however, was captured beautifully by [Amanda] Hunter, who stood with her camera on the Church Street bridge over I-285 to watch the approaching traffic.

What she saw was ... nothing. An empty highway, with one or two stray cars. And then, like the hordes on the horizon, over the rise come the students backed by a phalanx of cars, cars, cars.

Increasing the speed limit from 55 to 65 mph had far less of a mortality (and speed) effect than pundits had predicted. The lives saved by driving 55 didn't materialize.

But, policies like a 55 mph speed limit on highways designed for 70 mph driving, do undermine the legitimacy of the law itself, as a speeding violation is one of the most common encounters every day people have with the law.

Usually, cops and the public agree to ignore unreasonable laws, but the precedent it sets for ignoring the law on a routine basis is a bad one.

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