I Can't Drive 65

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Today's New York Times Magazine has a good essay by Walter Kirn on some of the problems with low speed limits.

A few years ago in Montana, my home state, there was no posted speed limit on highways, just a vague rule about driving in a "reasonable and prudent" manner. This haziness forced motorists to think, adjusting their speeds according to the conditions while hoping that lurking state troopers agreed with them. I felt flattered by this invitation to use my judgment and drove more consciously than I ever had. I felt like a grown-up. Then they changed the law, instituting a top limit of 75 m.p.h. Suddenly, I was a rebellious child again. Whether it was day or night, raining or sunny, I treated 75 as a new minimum—as the opening bid in a floating poker game.

Seventy-five, you say? I'll raise you four. No sirens yet? I'll raise you six.

Montana's highway death rate did drop—at first—but now it's back up, to near its highest levels. No one knows why, but when I'm feeling contrary I wonder if it's because, in certain realms, responsibility for your own decisions sharpens the senses, while regulations numb them…

Check out the whole story here.

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  1. He who regulates everything by laws, is more likely to arouse vices than reform them.

  2. On a vaguely related tangent, there was a recent story that posting “wash hands” sign in public restrooms lead to increased hand washing rates among women, but had no effect on men. The reason, it was speculated, was that men were less responsive to “pro-social” direction from authority figures.

    But taking it a step further, I wondered how many people were LESS likely to obey when faced with anonymous commands from busybodies.

    Several years ago I read about a surveillance system designed to verify employee compliance with hand-washing regulations. If you didn’t run the water for so many seconds, and push the button on the soap dispenser, an alarm sounded when you left the restroom.

    I wonder if it ever occurred to them that this paternalistic, insulting and intrusive measure might inspire people to deliberately violate hand-washing policy who would earlier have washed without a second thought. If you ever wet your toothbrush and squeezed some toothpaste down the sink, as a kid, the way to defeat this electronic “mommy” should be obvious.

    What these people don’t seem to understand is that workers respond to this kind of dehumanizing micromanagement by deliberately looking for ways to break the rules or monkey-wrench the operation, just to reassert some feeling of control over things. If you think about your own job, there are probably a thousand ways you can sabotage operations every day with virtually no possibility of getting caught. The only thing stopping people from fighting back in this way is the little boss inside their heads–and I killed off that little guy a long time ago.

    A few years ago, I worked for a pizza restaurant with a policy of throwing all mistakes away. The boss caught me eating a slice of a mistake pizza, and made me pay for the whole thing. From that time on, every pie I made had several ounces of extra meat and cheese, free to the customer. By the time I quit, I’d probably cost them $2-3,000 in extra ingredients. But that type-A micromanager was probably still congratulating herself on showing me who was boss.

    I worked in a hospital once with an extremely adversarial, authoritarian atmosphere. They had an accounting system where every time you got something from the supply room, you peeled off a sticker and put it on the patent’s chart. I just threw those stickers away and let the patients have the stuff free.

    BTW, I think these last two things are what the Wobblies call a “good work strike.”

  3. I react pretty much the same way to seat belt laws. I know that wearing a seat belt is generally a good idea, but I stopped wearing mine in kind of a libertarian protest as soon as they passed mandatory seat belt laws. Sure it’s irrational and more risky to my health, but I always feel morally cleaner when I defy a law that’s been put in place only to protect me from myself. I’ve gotten half a dozen tickets over the years, but it’s kind of worth it to me.

  4. I react pretty much the same way to seat belt laws. I know that wearing a seat belt is generally a good idea, but I stopped wearing mine in kind of a libertarian protest as soon as they passed mandatory seat belt laws. Sure it’s irrational and more risky to my health, but I always feel morally cleaner when I defy a law that’s been put in place only to protect me from myself. I’ve gotten half a dozen tickets over the years, but it’s kind of worth it to me.

  5. I’ve taken to refering to things such as seatbelt laws as “edicts” – it just has such a more honest connotation and feel, as opposed to the general sense of rationality or reasonability of laws. It also helps to create a simple cognitive distinction between laws that protect people from being burgerled, beaten, raped, and murdered, from the edicts of “Thou Shalt Not Behave In A Way Towards Oneself That We Deem Undesirable” varities.

  6. I wear my seatbelt cause I don’t wanna die if I get in a hard place. But IN PA – and most of the nation – top MPH is 65 in the fastest places. I go as fast as i htink the conditions, other cars, and my car can handle. I just got myself a new 2003 car – easily does 90 MPH on highways safely. I just averages 70 MPH from Staet COlege PA to DC over the 4th at night. THink about that average – taking into account traffic, stop signs, etc.

    Radar detector and police scanner is my car’s best accessories. Too bad VA and DC outlaw them both. Funny thing is, I’m not going to get pulled over because I have them both. Kinda a Catch-22 – in my favor.

  7. This is kind of the reverse of a situation I came across a few years ago when I doing a study on some changes at a small open cut coal mine in South East Queensland (Australia).
    The mine had moved from a highly unionized workforce to a more more localized and flexible contract system (still involving the union). One thing that was changed was to remove many of the safety officers from the frontline. They used to go around making sure everything was safe like their name suggests. What many of them did was replaced by simple mechanical devices or alert mechanisms.
    After they had been removed the company noticed that workplace accidents had actually gone down including in a number of areas where no safety personel had been involved. After investigation they realized that the workers now felt generally more responsibility for their own safety and took care where in the past they may have relied on the other person to do that job and that the new attitude was carried into other parts of their job.

  8. Well, the obvious trick is to install a Radar Detector + Radar Jammer (internally, not on the windshield).

    -Robert

  9. I believe that is what “VG2 Invisibility” is about – if the radar detector detects the VG2 radar detector detector, it shuts itself off and warns you as to the presence of the VG2 signal/device, thus making it impossible (supposedly) to nail you with it.

  10. Daniel Leathers writes: “Too bad VA and DC outlaw them both. Funny thing is, I’m not going to get pulled over because I have them both. Kinda a Catch-22 – in my favor.”

    Unless you get pulled over for having a light out, or some other non-speed infraction.

  11. gotta love the way the free market sticks it to stupid government laws with innovations like radar detectors and radar jammers. i’ve heard about this substance that you can spray on your license plate to obscure traffic camera’s from being able to get a clear picture of your license plate, another great invention as a result of government meddling.

  12. Don’t forget good ole PGP – Pretty Good Privacy, and the uproar it caused at the time. Before that no easy to use, effective cryptography software was in the hands and usable by the general public. This was a weapon and shield stolen from the hands of the government, and they were _pissed_ about it. It’s a pretty good story in and of itself, and it should be pretty easy to google for.

  13. David:

    Considering the percentage of their profit margins most large corporations get from government intervention in the marketplace, and given the way the laws are stacked to reduce the bargaining power of labor, I think of it more as liberating enemy property in a war. And this was a nationwide “health care” corporation that gets most of its money from Medicare, Medicaid, or a cartelized insurance industry. Pretty much the whole oligopoly sector can be safely treated as a branch of the corporate state.

    (You ought to check out what Murray Rothbard wanted to do to any corporation that got more than half its profit margin from the State.)

  14. The question I have here is what would a free-market solution to roadway rules look like. I assert that speed limits would still be imposed.

    Increased speed reduces the available reaction time a driver has to any number of unexpected, commonplace obstacles. To a roadway owner, this would be a value problem. He would have to assess this risk based on the customer’s interest in getting safely to his destination in the minimum about of time versus the risk of having his customer killed or injured on the way.

  15. The question I have here is what would a free-market solution to roadway rules look like. I assert that speed limits would still be imposed in a free-market solution.

    Increased speed reduces the available reaction time a driver has to any number of unexpected, commonplace obstacles. To a roadway owner, this would be a value problem. He would have to assess this risk based on the customer’s interest in getting safely to his destination in the minimum about of time versus the risk of having his customer killed or injured on the way. Certainly, different drivers have different reaction times, but it would be presently impractical for an owner to test, measure, and individuate the speed an individual driver can safely maintain.

    Speed limits should not be conflated with seat-belt laws. Driving speed affects other drivers, seat-belts do not.

    The anectote offerred regarding Montana’s experience with speed limits would be unpersuasive to a real roadway owner.

    jdog

    A rule establishing a speed limit differ from a

    jdog

  16. Have you ever driven in Germany? The Autobahn has no posted speed limit on the open sections between populated areas. Obviously, this is more anecdotal evidence, but I felt way more attentive putting my foot to the floor and watching the road, rather than glancing at my speedometer every 10-20 seconds and scanning the sides of the road for speed traps.

    Funny thing…when you get near cities and there is a speed limit (usually 100 km/hr, I think), PEOPLE FOLLOW IT. Some of this may have to do with a tendency among Germans to obey the rules (they don’t jaywalk, either, in my observation), but I can’t help but think one is more likely to respect the rules when they aren’t so arbitrary (like our speed limits tend to be.)

  17. On July 13, 2003 09:16 PM, Brendan Eales (from Australia) wrote: “After investigation they realized that the workers now felt generally more responsibility for their own safety and took care, where in the past they may have relied on the other person to do that job and that the new attitude was carried into other parts of their job.”

    I wonder how such an undertaking would play on a larger, national scale, in a country where “the inspectors” were government and where “the workers” were individuals.

    (Brendan, allow me to paraphrase for a moment.)

    “After investigation, the government realized that individuals now felt generally more responsible for their own lives and began taking care of themselves. Whereas in the past, individuals may have relied on government to suckle them, such personal responsibility, coupled with a new attitude, was now being carried over into other parts of society ? and, in the end, made for a more prosperous, much happier, and more creative nation.”

    Hmm, I like it. Thanks for the idea, Brendan.

  18. Actually, Kevin, what you did at the hospital would more likely be called “theft.”

  19. Unless he’s lost his senses, Man, by his nature, tends to follow the laws of physics …

    – Centrifugal force.

    – The Law of Momentum.

    – Two objects cannot be in the same place at the same time.

    – Etc., etc.

    … actually making the ponderous stacks of government-mandated laws redundant.

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