Wag the dog

The woman at the headquarters desk in Prairie Dog State Park didn’t like prairie dogs. I thought that strange until I saw the rest of the park. It’s a place to camp or put your boat in. The prairie dogs are an afterthought, confined to a few acres.

So much of government is like that, pretext for a cause they don’t like to admit.

Why is the speed limit still 55 on Route 3 from Burlington to Nashua? Certainly not for safety. Government studies say a higher speed limit would be safer. The speed limit is low because State Police need speeders.

If you drive into Massachusetts in the right lane at 10 mph under the speed of traffic, police can still stop you for speeding. They couldn’t do that if the speed limit had been raised.

Somebody going with the flow of traffic sees a cop, panics, and crashes into you. That accident causes police to lobby for even more speed trap details, causing even more accidents. You get a trip to the body shop. They get a trip to Home Depot because they finally got enough overtime to remodel.

None of the governors of the past 20 years cared. Governor Weld told his highway officials not to do anything controversial. Governor Swift in her helicopter didn’t care about roads. Governor Romney was running for president as the law and order candidate and needed police support. Governor Patrick hated cars other than his own. Governor Baker just doesn’t care about drivers. So police get their way, and the more people they hurt the more money they make.

What are stop signs for? Not usually to make drivers stop, because they don’t stop, and not for safety, because they usually violate safety guidelines. They are rewards to constituents. In San Diego that’s written into law. The rules for posting stop signs say they can be posted because the intersection needs them or because the neighborhood wants them. Other places have the same policy, but they don’t put it in writing.

Like speed limits, stop signs let police make pretext stops or put on a show of force to persuade voters that something is being done about all those nonresidents driving past their houses.

What should I have done when I saw a crack in my headlight, 20 miles from home?

I wrote about a typical low speed accident last summer. The police officer let everybody drive away. He shouldn’t have. One of the cars had a broken headlight. Even on a sunny day you can’t drive with a broken headlight.

For that we can thank the war on drugs. Fifteen years ago police needed an excuse to stop a car and search it for drugs. They noticed it had one headlight on. Faced with the choice between upholding common sense and upholding a conviction, the Massachusetts Appeals Court said police can stop you for driving with one broken headlight in the daytime. (The Supreme Court affirmed that part of the ruling without meaningful discussion.)

That woman drove her broken headlight away from an accident with a police officer’s permission. Equipment violations don’t matter unless police don’t like you.

There’s an old fashioned concept in international law, casus belli. It’s the event that is used as justification for war. You can’t invade a country because it’s run by an evil dictator. What if it might have a WMD program in violation of UN Security Council resolutions? Maybe you can, and that’s good enough for government work, even if it’s not the real reason.

As the trillion dollar infrastructure project is back on the table, take some time to wonder what it’s really going to do.

Are Washington politicians going to spend money to help your commute? Or are Washington politicians going to spend money to help out their donors?

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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