America has gone nuts

How many top end speeders out there reading this? All of you? I thought so. Top end speeding is what we used to call speeding. It’s defined by the city of Portland as going 10 mph over the limit.

Any of you commit extreme DUI? Probably some of you. More than you think. It’s what we used to call DUI.

There’s a cycle in language. I call it grade inflation. We exaggerate and exaggerate until a word becomes meaningless. Then we need a new word.

There was a time, before I learned to drive, when going 10 over the limit meant something. We used to have a policy that speed limits should be well over the average speed of traffic. This was based on safety research as well as democratic principles. Outside of speed trap towns you were unlikely to get a ticket for driving with traffic.

As a driver I have two routes to get to work. Along one the data said the speed limit should be 40, the engineers cut that to 35, and town politicians cut that to 25. On the other the data said 70, the engineers said 60, and state politicians cut that to 55. Any way to work, “top end speeding” means driving with the flow of traffic.

This is common around the country. What used to be driving within the speed limit is now top end warp speed you’re-gonna-need-a-bigger-slogan speeding.

Once upon a time the blood alcohol limit was .15%. Most people who blow .15% are obviously drunk. Then federal law said states had to have a .08% BAC limit. And, if states liked federal money, the crime of blowing .08% had to be punished the same as drunk driving. Lawmakers concerned about drunk driving had a problem: .08% isn’t drunk. How could the law distinguish real drunk drivers from federal aid drunk drivers?

Some states gave up and said it didn’t matter if you were really drunk or legally drunk. Probation, alcohol education course, points, fine, fee, surcharge, and don’t let me see you here again. Traffic court is an assembly line, not a justice system.

Arizona went a different route. Traditional DUI, with a .15% BAC, was renamed “extreme” DUI. Ignore the name. It’s plain old DUI like a million people do every weekend (mostly without meeting a breathalyzer). Federal aid drinkers are convicted of non-hyperbolic DUI and get a lighter sentence. Genuinely drunk drivers get a longer sentence. If they blow.

These BAC-based laws are weaker than the old laws. Without a breathalyzer or blood test police can only convict you of regular drunk driving, the non-extreme kind. No matter how drunk you are. Because a decade or two ago rule makers in Washington decided that falling down drunk shouldn’t be a worse crime than blowing .08%.

At work we get jars of nuts to snack on. Not just any old nuts. Ultra premium nuts. Which I can’t distinguish from any old nuts like we used to have. I don’t know if you can even buy “nuts” any more, even though all you can buy is nuts. You can go to jail for selling skim milk under the label “skim milk”, but you can’t go to jail for labeling ordinary nuts as super ultra premium nuts.

You can slap a “top end” on a driving with traffic charge, and an “extreme” on a routine DUI arrest, and the press eats it up.

This is nuts.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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2 Responses to “America has gone nuts”

  1. James C. Walker says:

    Our knowledgeable friends in the Michigan State Police that corrected the posted speed limits on over 300 segments of urban and rural state highways confirmed to us that the most common under-posted limits are those set 10 or 15 mph below the safest 85th percentile speed levels. This creates the situations like Mr. Carr mentions for definitions like “Top End Speeding”, and many states put higher penalties on 10+ mph over than they do for under 10 over the limit. These definitions can be very lucrative for the courts and officials who get to spend the unfair fines.

    What is most perverse is that drivers around the 85th percentile speed have the lowest statistical chances to be in or cause any sort of a crash. This means with the under-posted limits that most tickets go to safe drivers that are unlikely to crash and their crime is “driving safely for the conditions”. This perverts the entire purpose for traffic laws and their enforcement and rightly creates cynics of most drivers who know they are just being viewed as an open wallet ready for picking.

  2. Tom McCarey says:

    We need to get old-school, certified, professional highway engineers in charge of Departments of Transportation and Transportation Committees everywhere to replace the political hangers-on, hacks, and patronage drones who seek ever more money from every driver.

    Tom McCarey