Try our low, low limits

I was discussing rules with a scientist: why does she trust chemical exposure limits in her lab, even when nobody is watching, while I don’t trust traffic signs?

Two questions to ask:

Do I know better than the people who made the rule?

Do I trust the people who made the rule?

I know better than the people who set speed limits and I don’t trust them.

I don’t know better than the people who set chemical exposure limits.

That’s not to say I trust OSHA, the EPA, or industry in general. I don’t.

But I couldn’t tell you without doing some research what the acceptable exposure limit for hexane is. If there is a closet full of chemicals, you’re going to have to start following instructions if you want to have any time left to work.

Unlike chemical toxicity limits, safe speed for most situations is obvious to the average driver. So while lab rules are potentially useful, speed signs are marketing tools.

I recently commented on the absence of a “this time we mean it, really” traffic sign for use when there is a non-obvious hazard that you should consider slowing down for. How can you tell that “SPEED LIMIT 20” means go 25-30 for this 200 feet when it means go 35 on the rest of the street?

Some parking signs have emphasis that works. Not so much “tow zone”, which might be an exclamation mark but is on all the signs in some districts. “Empty space under sidewalk.” Pay off the cops with a PBA sticker, leave plenty of space for pedestrians, and your truck may end up in the basement anyway. That’s a sign you don’t see everywhere.

With speed signs, anything that is thought to attract attention gets overused so much it stops working. Today I drove past 10 fluorescent yellow green signs in 1,000 feet. What was once emphasis — pedestrians here! — is now urban background noise.

If you drive 30 past that sign saying “speed limit 20 our deaf, dumb, and blind kid lives here” you’re no more likely to end up in a ditch or a courtroom than if you drive 30 where no such sign exists.

Most likely that kid went away to college five years ago or never existed at all. The blind child sign on Waverley Oaks Road has been there over 15 years, and even in 2001 I never saw any children in danger of getting close to traffic. Newton DPW took down a “CHILDREN” sign after learning there were no children — a childless resident had asked for the sign as a bluff.

In California, “radar enforced” means “this speed limit is too low”, more than “this speed limit is radar enforced.” Same in Connecticut; one sign lasted over 30 years and I never saw a cop there.

“Speed limits now 20% off!” “You’ll never see limits this low again!” “Recommended by two out of three city councilors.”

Roadside spam.

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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