Drive At Your Own Pace?

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

On the main road that bisects my rural county, I typically lope along at 75 or so. This, to me — for me — is a reasonable speed. It’s within my comfort zone. Not so fast that I feel I’m pushing my limits as a driver — or the limits of the car. I state this as a mature adult who has taken several high-performance driving courses, drives professionally to earn my living (test driving/evaluating new cars) and who — most relevantly — has not had an accident in decades of driving. One of two things must be true: Either I am very lucky — or I am a responsible, careful driver.

The speed limit, however, is 55.

This means I am usually driving much faster than is legally permissible. In fact, in my state (Virginia) it is technically “reckless driving” to exceed any posted limit by more than 20 MPH. That means 76 in a 55 — even if 55 is palpably ridiculous, almost universally ignored — and doing 76 is not much faster than the normal flow of traffic on that road.

A fundamental problem — technically, not ethically — with speed limits is they are one-size-fits-all, the “size” typically being a half-blind, borderline senile, fearful/timid and poorly skilled driver — for whom that speed might indeed be the limit — the fastest they probably ought to be driving (if they ought to be driving at all).

But what if that’s not you?

What if you can safely — based on objective criteria — operate at a faster clip? Why is it wrong for you to do so? And why should you be punished for doing so?

Consider other life situations. We don’t (yet) put the smart kids on the short bus. Insist that the expert skier take the bunny hop course. Are sprinters forced to limit their pace to that of the slowest runner? When you are out walking in public, do you expect others to walk no faster than you’re walking?

These, of course, are not exact parallels, but the fundamental point does apply. People are individuals — and individuals vary in almost every conceivable way, including their skill behind the wheel. Some are much better — and some much worse — than others. This is as self-evident as the fact that some people are better athletes than others, can tackle advanced math more adeptly than some can deal with basic arithmetic. And so on, throughout and across the spectrum of human life.

Speed limits — to be generous for the sake of this discussion, let us assume they are not set over-low deliberately, for purposes of mulcting motorists — are typically set on the assumption that everyone is worse. No, it’s more than merely that. Speed limits require every driver to drive at the level of the worst drivers. Those who refuse to get on the short bus — so to speak — are punished for not following the rules.

Not because they are bad (or dangerous) drivers.

As a result, there is a gross (and growing) disconnect between “crime” and “punishment.” Meaning, people who know they’ve done no wrong, who were in full control of their vehicle, are nonetheless punished — with ever-increasing severity. See, for instance, Virginia’s “reckless driving” statute, which imposes four figure fines and the possibility of jail time merely for driving in excess of 20 MPH faster than any posted limit. This is a fundamental injustice — and bad social policy besides. One of the main reasons otherwise straight-and-narrow citizens are becoming ever-more-contemptuous of police is that they view them as thieves acting under color of law. The roadside prattle about “safety” and “do you know how fast you were going” is insufferable cant. It’s a shakedown, legalized robbery — nothing more.

This tends to piss people off.

The system would work a whole let better if it permitted what ought to be SOP in an allegedly free society — the exercise of judgment and the individual assumption of responsibility for the consequences. Why not, in other words, let drivers gauge the “right” speed for themselves? Some will drive faster than others are comfortable with — just as others will drive more slowly than others are comfortable with. But neither is a safety issue — as such (provided each type of driver is courteous and neither crowds slower-moving drivers nor attempts to box in faster-moving drivers).

If a driver causes an accident, hold him accountable — irrespective of the speed he happened to be driving at the time. It’s not the speed that’s relevant — it’s that an accident happened.

A free society needs — no, requires — people who are not biological automata. Who are capable of evaluating a situation and taking appropriate action on their own initiative. Without being punished for doing so. For transgressing some arbitrary rule.

The immediate objection — in some quarters — will be that absent one-size-fits-all, without arbitrary rules, people would just run amok. Drive 100 MPH through subdivisions, half-empty fifth of Jack Daniels in one hand, cell phone in the other — steering by knee. It’s ridiculous — unless you take the position that most or even many people are reckless (actually reckless), even sociopathic. As unconcerned about their own lives as they are about the lives of others.

It’s ludicrous.

The fact is, most people do behave. Act reasonably, with consideration for others. Without need of laws to tell them to — and not because they fear being punished. With regard to driving, most people want to arrive alive — and drive accordingly. Like me, they drive within their limits, within their comfort zone. Just like most people who own guns handle them responsibly, do not shoot up schools, do not shoot themselves.

It’s the people who can’t control themselves who have this mania to control others — who assume the worst about others because they know, in their hearts, the truth about themselves.

These people are the problem.

Me? I’m getting tired of being held accountable for what other people do. Being punished, not because I’ve caused anyone any harm but merely because I chose not to get on the short bus, grin like an imbecile and accept being treated like an imbecile because some people are imbeciles.

Aren’t you getting tired of it, too?


Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!

Leave a Comment

10 Responses to “Drive At Your Own Pace?”

  1. Spike says:

    In aviation, what you can fly and the performance envelope that you can operate in is strictly regulated. If you've got the right training and experience, you can fly the hot aircraft. It would be wonderful if motorists willing to go through high-performance driving instruction and certification at their own expense while maintaining a clean record could be free from speed enforcement. Nothing much would change except for the fleecing of those drivers and everyone would arguably be safer for the training.

  2. Al says:

    I'm just making sure I never drive through VA.

  3. kevin says:

    Unfortunately, public roads are limited resources. We have to share. There aren't black-diamond roads for expert drivers, green circle roads for novices, or blue square roads for reasonably skilled drivers who don't want to push their limits. To use your metaphor, the reason we're all asked to ride the "short bus" is because it's the only bus available, not because anyone wants to punish proud drivers. I'd agree that inattentive, incompetent drivers should not be allowed on the road, and if you're an accomplished high-speed driver, good for you, but please, get over yourself – nothing triggers road rage more than entitled arrogance.

    • Brother John says:

      …and nothing says "entitled arrogance" more blatantly than sitting in the left lane, taking it upon oneself to enforce a ludicrous speed limit.

      We don't need black diamond, etc roads for drivers of different skill levels; we need people to be free to be relaxed behind the wheel and not scanning the horizon for a hidden revenue agent. We need traffic to be a freely flowing thing, so skilled drivers don't need to be stuck on the short bus. We need most of all to quit lowering those at the top and raising those at the bottom of the skill range.

  4. George says:

    Maybe it is time for Eric to reject the notion that the 'speed limit' law applies to him.
    Are you a commercial vehicle?
    Are you engaged in commerce?
    Didn't think so, so government has no right to tell you how fast or slow to drive.
    If you are too stupid and drive off the road, then you deserve your crashed up vehicle.
    But if you are an adult, and you have experience; then you can certainly drive 100mph during the daytime, when there is low contention for the road (and you can afford the gas).

    If other people commit a tort against you, then it is a valid function of the government to see that wrong righted. The only criminal action is when someone attempts to evade civil responsibility.

  5. Bo says:

    I agree. U wrote what I might have. This same ideology applies toosy laws – designed based in the worse case scenario, meaning usual that's dependent on the lowest intellectual capacity. I have a high I tells tual capacity and can even fly a plane if I had to without any training because I have that kind of mind and understanding. In any other case that's a us and desirable trait, but got some ridiculous reason, people like me have to be limited to laws created based on the total idiot. Also it seems laws are designed assuming everyone is a criminal waiting to happen. Yeah fed up not just tired of it. Governments have learned how to make the sheep kneel at their feet in fear and agreeing to being criminally extorted. One day it will all end. Common sense will prevail and the control freaks will be riding the short bus to consequence land, bastards. 🙂 I'm smiling see?

  6. Matt says:

    Agreed with everything you say but impossible to implement.

    The speed limit is set at that speed not just for the limit of a vehicle and driver but also for damage limitations. Simple physics is the faster something is going the harder its going to hit and the more damage it will do. Now a counter to this would be better containment systems to keep vehicles out of trees and better driver training. I mean anyone with an intermediate understanding of driving can see there are more than enough incompetent drivers on the road. Take for example the survey BMW did where 80% of 1-series owners thought their car was front wheel drive…you need to live under one hell of a big rock to think that.

    The other problem is reasonableness. Yes there are plenty of people who are reasonable people but there are also plenty of people that either are incapable of reason or choose to be unreasonable. Is doing heroin reasonable? Because its a damn epidemic up in the northeast.

    While I understand the frustration of not being treated on an individual basis, its also important that the system is fair and how else do you do that unless everyone has to live under the same set of rules.

  7. Brother John says:

    This is what grasping, increasingly clumsy governments do. They are starved for cash, because they spent stupidly on things outside their purview and so revenue must be sought in increasingly creative ways; thus, increasingly draconian, "four figure" penalties are introduced. Meanwhile, it's easy to go after speeders and the like: too many have swallowed the "safety" Kool-Aid, so few object; police ossifers surely have, and they carry out their duties with aplomb, especially when the weather is warm; those driving quickly don't represent any *actual* threat, and tracking them down no *actual* challenge; plus, it's profitable. Actual crime will continue to rise and be ignored.

    Speed limits, when presented with a little honesty, represent the idea that no one can be counted upon to preserve his own life when behind the wheel, and they attempt to rewrite laws of physics. Do you want to be a citizen, or not?

  8. Rhett says:

    Thanks Eric for writing this "for me". I've been driving legally since 14 in 1964, and have never caused an accident; only been sucker-punched at red lights twice. I built my first car and I've always had a performance car. The fastest I've driven on public roads is under 150, but I know how to drive fast and where to do it. I see other comments about "sharing the road" and the point is I never "open it up" when anyone else is in sight. Technically I'm a criminal (too), but it's a victimless crime; no one else was threatened in any way. I'm only using my cars as they are intended and marketed, but understand how to play the game. I've never gotten a speeding ticket; I'm the tree in the forest that falls silently. I'm usually the fastest car (truck) in winter because I've equipped it with dedicated winter tires. I'm safer at the speed limit than all these ill equipped drivers creeping along at 20 mph.

  9. seenmuch says:

    I drove tens of thousands of miles across Montana when it reasonable & prudent during daylight hours. On rural freeways speeds seemed to top out in the high 80s to around 90 mph safely. I drove many hundreds of miles safely & comfortably @ ~90 mph for hours on end on the interstates across the state.

    It was always fun to come out of Wyoming in a pack of cars that had been going ~80 for the last few hours. But as soon as you crossed the state line as a group we all accelerated to 90 mph. As long as you were not doing something unsafe like going a lot faster than everyone else, following too close or jump between lanes without signaling the MHP would not bother you.

    If we removed posted numerical limits drivers would not drive much different than they do today in areas where the posted limit is meaningless and not enforced.

    In the northeast where the posted limit is a bad unenforceable joke drivers today pick the speed they feel comfortable and safe. Thankfully in the region most of the time the speed laws are not enforced unless you are doing something that is actually unsafe…..

    On most if not all of the rural freeway miles coast to coast a numerical limit of 80-90 would be 100 % safe and get a 98-99.999999____ compliance. So no enforcement would be needed saving money and allowing the police to protect us from real crime……

    Utah has documented that travel is not less safe is areas that allow 80 today. In some of the areas that today allow higher speed they have clocked that travel is safer in areas that today have a posted limit of 80 mph.

    It would nice if the rest of the US would head this fact and stop believing the insurance lobby's spewing of the meaningless garbage of "speed kills"!! That statement was never more than a slogan that meant nothing in reality……