Sacred cows

Sometimes we take on faith that an established part of our society is essential. Except other places do fine without them.

School-related speed limits are one example.

New Zealand authorities are reminding drivers that the speed limit passing a school bus is 12 mph.

Why do we stop for school buses in America? Because we assume the world has to work that way.

I used to commute along a school bus route where children never had to cross the street. Every child’s stop was on the side of the road where the child lived.

The bus still put on its flashing lights and brought both directions of a traffic to a stop for no reason. Traffic going the opposite direction could have kept going 45 mph without risking student safety, and probably with better safety for all because traffic would flow smoothly.

Some federal regulator in the 1960s decreed that all buses had to work the only way he could imagine them working. Traffic law is state by state, but school bus equipment is federally mandated. (FMVSS 108, 131)

FHWA went the opposite direction in regulating school zone speed limits, but with the same goal of ticketing as many drivers as possible. States can make up almost any rule they like. Connecticut used to say a warning sign was all that’s needed. Arizona says always 15 mph. New York says reduce by 10 mph on a state road, or post 15 mph on a city road. Some school zones are in effect when children are in or next to the street. Some are in effect 24×7×365.

On my street there is a school zone that was understood not to have any safety effect. It wasn’t for the children meaning for the children, but “for the children” meaning to make adults feel comfortable. Ignorant people can’t imagine a school without a school zone speed limit sign, and they can’t imagine a school bus stopping without a stop sign flipping out.

But these aren’t necessary rules. They are part of our traffic religion, America’s particular breed of sacred cow.

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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