Sunday, January 01, 2006

Government: Unsafe At Any Speed

Happy New Year!

Sorry it's been so long since I posted; blame the holidays. I did want to have a thematic post today, but when I was in Iowa I saw something worth mentioning.

They raised the speed limit to 70.

Considering the rhetoric surrounding speed limits, the move surprised and pleased me. Especially after being in Virginia where the top speed is a mere 55. It got me thinking, is there any way I can make the claim speed limits are unconstitutional?

Granted I am no legal scholar by any measure of the word but I know enough to know that the overarching laws and ideas trump the smaller ones. So I asked myself, is there anything in the Constitution that could be interpreted as forbidding speed limits? I think there is.

Suppose I'm driving home one night and it's rapidly approaching Southpark time. In an effort to get there in time for the opening scenes (because face it, you're lost for the whole episode without them), I exceed the speed limit by several miles per hour. In doing so, I have hurt no one but I still get pulled over for breaking the law which causes me to miss a show that gives me joy. They have denied me my pursuit of happiness.

All attempts to restrict velocity deny in fact deny the pursuit of happiness because people want to go fast for a reason. Even if that reason is work because they will surely be sad if they get fired (unless they want to get fired for some unknown reason, in which case the question becomes "Why do they want to get there on time?").

Opponents would argue that speed limits reduces crashes and deaths and that certainly makes people happier than watching TV shows. This is a sloppy argument because first, they don't know that. Second, it is dangerous because the line between acceptable and unacceptable becomes arbitary. Outlawing cars would also reduce crashes and it would do so more completely than speed limits. So why not outlaw cars? It would be smarter to advise for greater punishment if accidents occur. That way we can discourage what we don't want without denying the opportunity of satisfaction.

It's appropriate that when I was home, I discovered a friend of mine might loose his license because he got three speeding tickets in the course of a year. Two of them occured while he was working his delivery job. If his license is revoked, he will loose his job and possibly have to drop out of college. So much for his pursuit of happiness.


Trailer Park Girl said...

"They have denied me my pursuit of happiness."
'The Man' always seems to do this.

jeremy h. said...

Sorry to say, but the phrase "pursuit of happiness" does not appear anywhere in the Constitution.

As for speed limits, libertarians sometimes claim this is a victimless crime. The same logic is then applied to DUI laws (which I have some familiarity with). But I think this doesn't cut the mustard.

Libertarianism as such has nothing to say about speed limits, DUIs, or anything else related to roads. All it says is this: they should be privatized. It's not hard to imagine a private owner setting speed limits or other restrictions. But if the gov't owns the roads, then they inevitibly have to make the rules.

Let's not bark up the wrong tree.

David said...


I must say I agree with you 100%.

Anonymous said...

Since speed limits vary by space, they'll probably come under the 10th ammendment to the Constitution under states rights. On a national level, there is "promote the general welfare". All the talk of constitutionality and happiness doesn't negate basic physics. A car going 70mph will do more damage in an accident than one going 50mph. Reaction time and control over the vehicle is reduced at higher speeds. I don't want to get hit by some nutcase who mistakes I-88 for das Autobahn (especially if they're in a SUV or other vehicle that's unnecessarily big).

Speed limits do reduce crashes. It's been proven, not just by physics, but records. Crashes go up with the speed limit. Remember that guy weaving in and out of traffic and nearly hit us on the way to Becky's? How happy would you be if we got in an accident because someone else decided their "pursuit of happiness" was more important?

Yes, the line between acceptable and unacceptable is arbrtary. There are times when you can go down a street at 70mph safely and other times when it's suicide. It depends on the weather, vehicle, traffic, road conditions, and so on. A sign can't give individual speed limits. Doing so would wreck havoc with the flow of traffic plus the psychological effects. What we have is the best balance between practicality and saftey.

The hard and fast limits aren't the best solution, and I don't just mean in terms of speed. Age of concent, drinking, seeing R movies is not a "one size fits all" solution either. It's still the law and should be obeyed.

There isn't much place for "no harm, no foul" in a consistant legal system. Whatever happened to prevention? Sure this time you made it back before South Park. But are you suggesting you only be arrested when you hit someone because of your wreckless behavior?

Anonymous said...

"Since speed limits vary by space" should be "Since speed limits vary by state". Sorry

David said...

Oh man you're right. Damn Declaration. Still, I wonder if there's a legal argument in there, anyway....

Jason, saying "It's still the law and should be obeyed" is sloppy. There are scores of laws I'm sure you could agree that should be ignored (anti-sodomy one for starters) and many more we break on a daily basis.

Are faster speed limits more dangerous? All things being equal, yeah. But the blanket law--that you admit is lacking--is lazy on the part of the government. As I mentioned before, just kick of the costs of harm, but not the action.

Say what you will about the guy that cut us off; he didn't hurt anyone.

Anonymous said...

OK, maybe "the law should be obeyed" was sloppy, but I was at work and had to hurry up. I wouldn't call a blanket law crazy until you have a better idea. So far I haven't seen it. You have to admit two facts:

1) Speed limits are necessary for public saftey.

2) It is extremely difficult even impractical to have signs that change to reflect what the speed limit should be at a particular moment.

We might not have seen the guy driving crazy hurt anyone, but it's only a matter of time. SUVs are prone to rollovers when they change lanes or dodge pot holes quickly. What he did put all of the other drivers and passangers at risk. Saying that he shouldn't be punished because no one got hurt is like saying we shouldn't give out tickets for DWI (or passing stopped school buses) unless someone gets hit.

I think there should be some wiggle room for speed limits because of circumstances. I've seen police cars pass me when I'm on Chi-town's interstates when I'm doing +5 speed limit. But that has more to do with the flow of traffic.

Reckless driving is only going to increase as cell phones, and now the video iPod, get used by more people. We either have to start cracking down on the traffic laws or teach responsible driving.