The Speed Limit Cargo Cult

1 Feb

by  • December 30, 2013 • 

One of the oddest totemistic fetishes of our age is worship of metal signs with various symbols imprinted upon them.cargo cult lead

Speed limit signs, for instance. People are supposed to reflexively obey them – and are subject to punishment if they do not. Rarely – to paraphrase George W. Bush – is the question asked: Why must they be obeyed?

The “because it’s the law!” retort ought by now to be so ridiculous and discredited as to hardly merit dissection. But – sigh – it is necessary to throw the carcass on the autopsy table anyhow – because all too many people still fall for it. And trot it out as acredible argument.

If it were the law that everyone had to stand on one foot and hop, would you insist on compliance? If “the law” were such that you could own another person and force them to clean your house, would you take advantage of that? There is “the law” – and there is right (and wrong). These things are often not the same things.

But are speed limit laws right?law is the law pic

Of course not. They are merely legal.

Which means, it is not necessarily wrong to disobey them. And it may be very wrong indeed to enforce them.

To start with, speed limits as they exist in America are “one size fits all” – and yet, people differ in their abilities, including their ability to safely operate a car at higher (or lower) speeds. I’ve pointed out to Clover – the ur troll of – that someone who is naturally (in terms of physical abilities) a better-than-average driver who has also had some training in high-speed vehicle handling and vehicle control is probably as or more “safe” (i.e., less likely to lose control of his vehicle) operating at say 75 MPH on a road with a 55 MPH posted limit as a worse-than-average driver with poor eyesight and reflexes and no training in vehicle control on the same road at 45 MPH.

Why should there be a one-size-fits-all standard? Why should better-than-average drivers be constrained – and punished – not for any harm they’ve caused but because they didn’t voluntarily accept being dumbed-down to the level mandated for the worse-than-average drivers?porky pic

What constitutes “too fast”?

In practice, it is defined as faster than the dumbed-down standard (speed limit), which comes down to faster than various Clovers are comfortable with. Their unspoken belief is that if they’re not comfortable driving faster than a certain speed, then anyone who drives at that speed – or faster – is necessarily driving “too fast.” It is exactly like insisting that everyone walk at the pace of the slowest person on the sidewalk.

And that anyone who jogs or runs is “reckless.”

The only objective measure of driving “too fast” is loss of control/causing a wreck. Clovers may believe that driving “x” speed increases the chances there will be a loss of control and a wreck, but this is a hypothetical and by no means logically established. If it were axiomatic that the faster you go, the higher the odds of loss of control, then it ought to be “safer” (statistically and otherwise) to fly in a single engine Cessna at 120 MPH rather than a 757 at 400 MPH. Yet it is the reverse.clover king

Apples and oranges? Hardly.

There is no evidence that faster drivers are involved in more accidents. In fact it is the opposite. See here  for some very interesting, if politically incorrect, data. Here’s a sample:

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that 30 percent of all fatal accidents are “speed related,” but even this is misleading. This means that inless than a third of the cases, one of the drivers involved in the accident was assumedto be exceeding the posted limit. It does not mean that speeding caused the accident. Research conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation showed that the percentage of accidents actually caused by speeding is very low, 2.2 percent.”


“Federal and state studies have consistently shown that the drivers most likely to get into accidents in traffic are those traveling significantly below the average speed.”

There is plenty of evidence out there to support the contention that speed – as such – does not kill.porky last

Inattention and incompetence do – but there are no signs forbidding these. And punishment is rarely meted out to offenders.

Good drivers continuously adjust their speed to their skill level, conditions and so on – not mindlessly obeying fetishistic totems planted by the side of the road. And that’s how it ought to be. Posting signs suggesting speeds for given roads (and conditions, such as curves), in other words, as advisories can be helpful to drivers not familiar with a given road, etc.

But insisting on absolute adherence to a generic number as the “right” number for all drivers, at all times is both silly and unfair as well as counterproductive in that it encourages passive (and so mediocre/poor) driving while punishing (and so discouraging) active, attentive (and so, better) driving.

But, try telling this to a cop.

Or, a Clover.

Throw it in the Woods?

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