Work to rule

The school bus just went by, 7 minutes late as usual. There’s a new bus driver this year. Unlike the others he doesn’t start driving until all the children are sitting down. The route is literally 50% slower with him behind the wheel.

I explained to a neighbor the term “work to rule.”

Is no standing a rule? It’s the kind of aspirational rule that regulators like to impose. Possibly the driver was warned he would be fired or prosecuted if a student fell down. But school buses are very safe. Over the course of a year, the several student-hours per day he delays his load adds up to more than the value of a sprained wrist from a fall. Not that the latter happens once a year with a typical driver.

Opponents of the national speed limit used to hold protests where they demonstrated how stupid the law was by obeying it. Maybe if they had made a citizen’s arrest of anybody who passed them the public would have paid attention.

It’s a rainy day and I’m about to head to the highway. They tell me I should leave a four second gap between me and the car ahead if the road is wet. It used to be a car length per 10 miles per hour, about one second. Then two seconds. But if two is good then three must be better than two and four must be better than three.

There’s another aspirational rule that hurts more than it helps. Even the two second rule isn’t meant to be obeyed. Transportation planners assume drivers are barely more than a second apart. If they wanted a two or three second spacing they would give us twice as many lanes. Would you rather have the status quo, or pay for the four lane highway to become an eight lane highway that doesn’t get you to work any faster? But on the new highway you would have spacing traps.

They exist, those traps. The ticketing hardware industry has devices to detect following distance. Luckily they aren’t common. Sometimes there’s a two second rule dictated by statute. Sometimes a judge will let a police officer make up his own rule. Like the Saratoga crosswalk sting where deputies enforce their own personal crosswalk law, contradicting Caltrans and the Vehicle Code. The ticketing and accident investigation business is full of precise but meaningless figures.

I’ve often mentioned how what people say other drivers should do bears little relation to what they do. They’ll chant “25 saves lives!” then speed off at 35. Unfortunately, they make rules when they are sitting behind a desk instead of behind a wheel.

Very little in driving requires such precise dictates. We need to agree on some basic stuff like who has right of way and which side of the road to use. But we are not well served by micromanagement.

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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One Response to “Work to rule”

  1. Jolly Rider says:

    I’m not a fan of most camera enforcement. But I’d love for tailgaters to be ticketed, when they intentionally follow just a few feet behind at highway speeds.