There’s a Billy Joel lyric I’ve always liked. “They will tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place. Then they’ll tell you you can’t sleep with somebody else.” Such is driving in the age of fear. We’ve always been told we have to slow down because of all the traffic… and then when there’s no traffic we’re told we have to slow down anyway. The same principle behind variable speed limits that are always too low.
There’s a minor epidemic of articles and blog posts complaining that traffic speed is up now that roads are empty. Despite the pleas of frightened journalists we don’t have to slow down. Who’s going to stop us?
There were a lot of cops along I-95 on Monday… but there weren’t really. It was like the 23rd Psalm, walking through the valley of the shadow of death without fear. Massachusetts State Police were doing what they do best, collecting overtime while watching construction. Nobody was checking traffic speed. Who wants to risk getting sick so the state can make $100 off a speeding ticket? I wasn’t afraid to drive with the flow of traffic on the highway, even in a conspicuous car. I wasn’t afraid to drive 40 past the illegal 20 mph sign the gang of crooks who run the town ordered posted. The radar trap was long gone.
A few years ago New York State Police quietly staged a work slowdown. No more routine speeding tickets in most courts. If you were going seriously fast they’d pull you over. 90 in a 55, ticket. 70 in a 55, probably not. That is the new normal. In Portland, Oregon police basically stopped writing tickets for anything less than 20 over the limit.
What hasn’t changed is the use of pretext stops. Some police are keeping up drug busts. More are taking advantage of the recent suspension of civil rights. A story made the rounds about a woman who was pulled over for a “broken taillight”. In fact the officer had a hunch, which proved correct, that she had left her house without a satisfactory explanation. Papers, please. (In France it’s a literal paper document you need to leave your house.)
State borders are lined with roadblocks. Police in Delaware have been deployed to prevent Pennsylania residents from shopping. Many police, stationary and mobile, mid-Atlantic and otherwise, are looking for out of state plates. So what you really have is a license to speed in a car registered in the state where you are. Especially in the country. A blog noted the redeployment of police to control citizens in urban areas. I don’t know if it’s true but it sounds plausible.
Aside from a much better driving experience, what does this mean? Less revenue for the government, for sure. We should see a decline in accidents because of lower traffic. On top of the decline in traffic and enforcement there are changes in driving demographics which could push the numbers up or down. Anecdotally, I’m reading fewer stories about serious crashes in Massachusetts. Michigan apparently has more. I’m looking forward to the numbers.
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