Speed limits are silly

· Essay

Speeding laws are a failure.

Laws - traffic laws in particular - are enforced to keep us safe. They prohibit behaviour that presents risk. By eliminating the risk, they eliminate the danger by nipping it in the bud. In essence, traffic law is the work of a mindset that says prevention is better than a cure.

Speeding laws operate on the assumption that drivers are homogenous (that is, that they’re all the same) when they clearly aren’t. An elderly individual whose reaction time has been greatly compromised by age is not on par with a person who races recreationally every weekend. Despite that, speed laws force them to work at the same pace. Whether you’re grandpa or Schumacher, you’re capped at 50. On paper, this works: even if Schumacher can drive safely at 100, he’ll certainly be safer driving at 50. Our grandpa, who doesn’t have it in him to go 100, is also safe at 50. Everyone wins. Unfortunately, speed limits rarely function as limits. In fact, they’re almost always interpreted as a suggested speed, or even a speed minimum. This is where speeding laws become dangerous. Grandpa might not actually feel comfortable at 50 after all, but the sign in front of him (and everyone around him) are forcing his pedal closer to the metal. All that and I haven’t even mentioned that here in Australia it’s actually illegal to drive less than 20 under the limit.

Homogenous laws don’t work for heterogenous (not the same) people. What might be an incredibly difficult speed for me to drive at could be the pace of your Sunday drives. That’s why speeding laws aren’t a great idea: they punish risk, but whose risk? Sure, you could say they punish being more risky than the average, and that might sound great, but in reality you’re just going to leave average drivers content and piss the rest of the populace off.

Alternatives are difficult to find, though. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a completely heterogenous law where the speed limit is different for every driver on the road based on their skill, age, coffee intake, how distracting their car interior is, and so on. While that would be an ideal solution, it’s somewhat (only somewhat) of a nuisance to implement. As much as I’m a fan of fencesitting, that won’t help us here; a partially-heterogenous law where speed limits are applied based on general categories, rather than individual traits, is really just a slightly more specific version of the problem we already have. In fact, almost any solution you could think of for this problem poses some sort of barrier.

The solution, my dear readers, is to forgo a solution entirely. I’ve just spent a few paragraphs explaining why punishing risk is impossible to execute effectively, so why bother at all? But wait, won’t that mean bad drivers get off scot free? Well, we do have laws for T-boning and gruesomely murdering an innocent family, so I would hazard a guess that no, they won’t.

But won’t that be less effective at stopping road tragedies? Also no. Apart from the research saying so, I’m sure we could agree that you’d have a challenge finding someone who drives around trying to get into accidents. See, we don’t need to punish risk because taking a risk and failing is the punishment.

To be added…