Speed limits test the limits of reason

by Louis Grube on June 10, 2009

speed-limit-27-signLately, I’ve been giving up vices.  Cheese, weeknight partying, and gambling have all been easily removed from my day to day life.  These were  easy.  I’d say the most difficult vice to give up has been speeding.  Of all the changes I’ve gone through while growing up, this is probably the least expected.

I haven’t become such a prudent driver for safety or legal reasons.  I’m skeptical about speed being a danger per se, and I’ve got no warrants out to keep me from risking an encounter with the FiveOh.  I’m just worried that I use too much gasoline.  I like to try to be more environmentally friendly than your average Ohioan.  I reuse rags instead of paper towels, I reuse the same Styrofoam coffee cup religiously every morning with no intent of ever tossing it, and I cringe for every dollar I spend on gas.  Unfortunately, I have to drive to work these days.  I’ve really had to look for ways to reduce my dependence on foreign oil, and the result is that I’ve been driving 25 miles an hour when that is the posted speed limit, even when everybody else is getting angry.  I counted 34 cars passed me with an angry look this past week.  There’s a sick satisfaction that comes from knowing you’ve bothered someone who is very clearly hurting the environment by blowing past your car at 35 over the speed limit.  Sorry kids, you’re ruining Bambi’s forest when you drive 90.

While bothering the drivers of Northeast Ohio, it has occurred to me that speed limits are an interesting breed of laws.  The main argument against speed limits is that they are totally arbitrary.  This is a really great point if you ask me.  Roads where I am from in Ohio often don’t have speed limit signs, so the applicable law is the state maximum of 65 miles per hour.  Many of these roads look like they have been scud bombed, and if there is room for two cars to pass each other, you’re lucky.  Putting a blanket speed limit on these roads is a great idea if you want to keep people from driving 90 over gravel on turns, but permitting them to drive  at 65 on such a death trap is flat out irresponsible.  Any law imposing a flat speed limit will have a total lack of attention to specific road conditions at the heart of its passage, at least in Ohio.  So why do we have speed limits if they can so problematically miss the point?  It seems that the answer is something like “because we do.”speed-limit-nine-sign

There is still hope that we might find a good reason for a specific speed limit!  Senator John Warner of Virginia had it spot on last summer when he asked Energy Secretary Sam Bodman to look into a speed at which better efficiency could be expected from the current technology on the road.  It wouldn’t be the first time that america slows down out of energy concerns either.  In 1973, Congress enacted a national speed limit of  55 miles per hour so that the little oil available would go a longer way.  This was, at minimum, a real reason to slow down for once.  Now that the political climate (and the actual climate for that matter) has changed, You should drive slow for the practical purpose of polluting less.

So if you’re an Ohio driver and you’re stuck behind some guy driving 35 in a 45 zone, just remember that I’m mostly doing it for Bambi, and only a little bit because you get angry.