Five Stupid Traffic Laws

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 Here are a few current laws that ought to be on the other end of a piece of payin’ paper for a change:

* No right on red -

This is a form of idiot-proofing designed to protect over-cautious, under-skilled drivers with poor vision and a weak sense of spatial relationships – the kind who need both lanes to be totally clear for at least a football field’s length before they feel secure enough to make the turn. Since they can’t safely judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic, we get to wait at the light like morons, too – even if there isn’t another car coming for miles. 

Everyone else gets to stack up behind the piece of arteriosclerotic traffic plaque clogging up the road, awaiting the fleeting green light that’s also timed to coincide with pedestrian right-of-way on the opposing cross street – assuring only a handful of cars get through before it goes red again.

Instead of dumbing-down the roads to accommodate dumbed-down, least-common-denominator drivers, why not encourage better driving? Maybe those lacking the skills to perform basic maneuvers such as safely pulling into an intersection without the aid of a green light ought to be taking the bus.

* Midnight red -

 It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and you come to a red light that’s red…. and stays red. You sit and sit and sit – engine idling, gas and time wasting. There isn’t another car around for miles. Sometimes, the light even cycles without giving you the green. (A common problem for motorcycle riders.) Of course, if you become exasperated and run the light – even after stopping completely to make sure it’s safe and the way is absolutely clear – it’s almost guaranteed there will be a donut-eater lurking nearby, waiting just for you.

In Europe, where sensible traffic laws are more the rule than here, many signaled intersections switch over to flashing yellow – “proceed with caution” – after a certain hour, when traffic has died down to a trickle. It is assumed that drivers are competent enough to make a judgment call on their own – and it seems to work pretty well.

It’s a custom we should definitely import.

* No left at red light -

Cousin to the no-right-on-red rule, this is the one where you find yourself at an intersection wanting to make a left turn across an opposing lane of traffic onto a sidestreet. But instead of a “yield to oncoming traffic” green light – sensible policy – you’re stuck with a red light made just for you – on the assumption you’ve got inch-thick cataracts and the ability to judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic of Mr. Magoo. You’re supposed to wait patiently for the green arrow – even when there’s no oncoming traffic at all and you could literally get out and push the car safely across the intersection.

Like no right on red, it’s a well-intended law designed to protect the worst drivers out there from their own marginal skills and poor judgment – at the expense of everyone else.

* Under-posted speed limits -

Speed limits are not supposed to be random numbers picked at whim by a government bureaucrat – or revenue-minded police chief. They’re supposed to be done according to traffic surveys that indicate an appropriate speed that balances safety with the goal of smoothly flowing traffic traveling at a reasonable pace for a given stretch of road. (The formal traffic safety engineering term for this is the “85th percentile speed.”) But most posted speed limits are set well below the 85th percentile speed – typically at least 5-10 mph below it. This turns almost every driver on the road into a “speeder” – in the technical foul sense of driving faster than the number on the sign. It usually has nothing to do with safe driving, however. Things are set up this way to give police an easy reason to pull over just about anyone at just about any time – and to generate lots of tax revenue via tickets.

We’ve all encountered what amount to obvious speed traps – the classic example being a broad, two-laned divided road posted at a ridiculous 30 or 35-mph instead of the 45-50 mph everyone’s driving. Since most of us routinely drive faster than posted maximums, we’re all either reckless fools – or the speed limits  have been set absurdly low for the road. Common sense says it’s the latter; any law that is flouted by almost everyone is probably a bad law – like Prohibition. Roads with under-posted speed limits are designed to be “revenue enhancers” for the local constabulary. This sort of thing only creates antagonisms between the otherwise law-abiding public and the police – whose motto should be “To Serve and Protect” – not “To Harrass and Collect.”

Genuinely dangerous drivers should be aggressively targeted; but using the law to extract the “motorists’ tax” from unwary drivers over trumped-up “speeding” charges has about as much to do with that as Democracy has to do with fair government.  

* Primary enforcement seat belt laws -

This is the name given to laws that give police the authority to pull a motorist over for not wearing a seat belt. The question isn’t whether it’s prudent to buckle-up. Of course it is. So is eating your veggies and maintaining an idea; body mass index. But is should it be the government’s job to force any of that on us? Not wearing a seat belt may increase your risk of injury or death if there is an accident. But is that anyone’s business but yours? Not wearing a seat belt has about as much effect on others as failing to eat right or exercise. It increases your personal risk – but that’s really no one’s business but your own. If you like seatbelt laws, how about random blood pressure and cholesterol checkpoints? Are they going to begin isuing cops calipers to measure our body fat ratio?

Turning on the flashing lights and pointing Glocks our way for this “violation” is completely over the top – and ought to stop.

* Sobriety checkpoints -

 In the name of law and order, we’ve come to accept the idea of being randomly stopped, questioned and made to produce ID – rigmarole that would be familiar  to a citizen of Berlin in 1940 or Moscow in 1970. “Your papers, please!” is not what America is supposed to be all about. The goal of getting drunks of the road is beside the point. Probable cause is – or ought to be – the point. It’s wrong to subject people who have done absolutely nothing to suggest they’ve been drinking and driving to random stops and interrogations. It violates one of the most basic tenets of the Western European legal theory going back to Magna Carta. Unless you – specifically you – have given the authorities a specific reason to suspect that you have violated (or may be about to violate) a law, the authorities should have no authority to interfere with you in any way. That we have lost sight of this basic, once-cherished principle and are so willing to  give it up in the name of “safety” or “getting drunks off the road” shows we’re very far down a Dark Road, indeed. 

By all means, stop and check out any driver who appears to be weaving, driving erratically or otherswise giving good reason to suspect he may be liquored up. But leave the rest of us alone and free to go about our business until we’ve given good reason to warrant a closer look.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  6 comments for “Five Stupid Traffic Laws

  1. dom
    November 2, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    I have a few tickets from “Midnight Reds.”

  2. clover
    November 20, 2010 at 1:20 am

    1) Midnight on red light. In many towns the red lights do switch to flasshing red or yellow already. That is in the US. If you have streets that have very few drivers at night you can try to get it changed. It is not only a Europe thing where they have it.
    2) Underposted speed limits. I have noticed anymore that people feel like it is a responsibility to go over the limit by 5 to 10 mph or more. If you increase the limit by the 10 mph then many people are going to drive 5 to 10 mph above that speed. If you change a road that is 55 mph to 65 mph there will be many drivers that will be trying to driving 70 to 75 mph no matter what flawed studies you may have read. Many drivers feel it is their responsibility to go over the limit unless they start to get into accidents themselves.
    3) sobritety checkpoints. I think it is a good thing to get drunk drivers from driving by only causing a very minor delay of other drivers. I have been at a couple of roadblocks in my driving carrer and they did not violate my rights at all.

  3. November 20, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Actually, numerous traffic surveys over the past several decades have found the opposite. On most highways, the 85th percentile speed is around 70 mph; it has been the same for 30 years – irrespective of the posted maximum. Not an opinion – a fact.

    The mistake you make is assuming that most people are not smart enough to drive reasonably without speed limits. That’s just not the case. The Interstate system was designed for average speeds in the 70-80 mph range and that’s what feels right to most people – which is why most people drive at about that speed.

    • clover
      November 20, 2010 at 5:55 pm

      yes Eric there are surveys that say such a thing and they are flat out lies. I also know for a fact that many people would not drive reasonably if there were no speed limits. I would bet there would be thousands of more deaths. Teenage drivers would be in the majority of those deaths. Us older people would know to slow down because many of our friends would be dead because of their driving. I have classmates and friends that died in traffic deaths because they were traveling too fast but you do not believe in such facts. Why may I ask did you run off of the road into a tree? I do agree with you that we should not need laws or police but that is in the perfect world that we do not have. There is a good percentage of people that do not drive reasonably without laws and enforcement and sometimes that does not stop them. Did you see the deadliest roads on the History channel. It is an example of what drivers do when anything goes.

  4. November 20, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Everything you’ve written is your subjective personal opinion.

    The fact is that traffic surveys say otherwise. Have you taken the time to actually look into it? I have. I recommend you do, as well. Then you can post more than your opinion. The federal government’s surveys and the surveys of most states show the same thing: Most people drive at around 70 on the highway, irrespective of speed limits. This was true when the speed limit was 70-75 back in the ’60s and it was true in the ’70s-80s and when it was 55 and it is true today, with speed limits back up around 65-70 on most highways. Yes, some drivers go faster. But most are within the “flow” at 70-ish, which is why it’s called the 85th percentile speed.

    The rulebook governing how speed limits ought to be posted (and why) is called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and it states that speed limits should be set in accord with the measured 85th percentile speed – which is (on most US highways) at around 70-75 mph.

    Those are the facts – not my opinions.

  5. Jean
    May 15, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Must keep remembering, don’t feed the trolls… Just piss on the Clover….

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