The dog ate my report

Before we take a look at what the crooks at Nevada DOT are up to, I want to tell a story about a former employer. The company was catching a lot of unwanted attention from prosecutors and competitors. Corporate lawyers adopted two policies.

First, they had the computer automatically delete email to keep it out of investigators’ hands. Second, they trained us how to avoid putting incriminating evidence in writing.

If we wanted to save email we had to manually copy each message to a file on our laptops. When a lawyer comes to corporate headquarters with a subpoena for “all email about Project Maximum Corruption” there won’t be any on the servers.

The lesson on what to put in writing came from a company lawyer who told us how bad he felt when our incriminating words were read to a jury. He didn’t discourage us from thinking evil thoughts. He had suggestions for how to phrase them when we wrote them down. (I quit shortly after that.)

Absence of evidence, evidence of absence

So what are those crooks at Nevada DOT up to?

Nevada DOT recently raised the speed limit to 80 on part of I-80. It was a political compromise because the legislature wanted a lot of 80 and the governor’s people wanted none.

The National Motorists Association obtained a copy of the engineer’s report on the I-80 speed limit. When I looked at it, I noticed something odd. The road was broken into segments and the segments didn’t line up. There was a gap through Lovelock and another through Elko where they didn’t collect any data and also didn’t post 80.

An odd omission, but maybe they have another report to fill in the gap. State law says the speed limit is 80 unless a reduction is justified by an engineering study, so there has to be one.

Nevada DOT said they destroy speed studies after ten years. The speed limits are older than that. There is nothing in the file.

I don’t believe the speed studies ever existed, and they can’t prove otherwise.

Let me repeat two things I heard about Nevada DOT years ago. The director dictates speed limits no matter what the engineering staff thinks. Rural Interstates were posted at the statutory speed limit without any engineering studies.

So if they didn’t ever do a speed study in Lovelock, they probably didn’t do one in Elko, and they covered up their tracks.

There’s a quote attributed to Stalin: “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”

One erased document is obstruction of justice. A million is a record retention policy.

But the record retention policy is an admission of guilt. There is no need to dispose of these documents. I’ve seen 50 year old paper files in other states. These days every speed study any state DOT has ever done could fit in the palm of your hand.

It’s the same excuse the city of Virginia Beach used. Photo enforcement in Virginia required an engineering safety analysis. There was none on file. The city said they did one and then destroyed it. The surviving evidence suggests that any such analysis was fraudulent.

Honest engineers don’t shred files like that. Engineering is about facts. Politics is about making embarrassment go away.

I heard a third thing: Nevada DOT staff put their objections in writing when told to violate the law. Embarrassing. Thanks to the policy of destroying evidence, their objections are gone.

I said crooks

I said crooks. Let me be more specific.

Conspiracy to commit civil rights violations under color of state law, for example. People are going to be pulled over for driving at a legal speed, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. If you’re following the Supreme Court closely you could argue that Ziglar v. Abbasi protects them from a conspiracy charge, but I think that case stands mainly for the proposition “if your name is Iqbal you can’t sue for post-9/11 mistreatment.”

Fraud against the federal government. In return for federal highway money Nevada promised to follow Federal Highway Administration rules. One of those rules says speed limit alterations, other than posting statutory speed limits, must be based on engineering studies.

Violating rules is not the fraud. The fraud is claiming to follow them while not doing so.

Imagine you apply for a mortgage you can’t repay. If you admit “I’m broke, lovesick, and driftin’” they’ll turn you down. If you say you’re making seven figures, you’re going to jail.

Ironically, the example of a non-fraudulent violation comes from Nevada. In 1986 Nevada set a speed limit contrary to federal rules and informed the Federal Highway Administration what had happened. FHWA immediately threatened to withhold federal highway funds. Nevada decided to obey the law.

It’s time for the Nevada legislature to step in with a California-style speed trap law. Say that no speed limit is enforceable unless justified by an engineering study within the past five years, with the speed limit at or above the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic.

Then the DOT will be able to shred old files because they were replaced, not because they were incriminating.

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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