If the Law Mirrors Behavior, Why the Law?

Yesterday brought an interesting bit of news courtesy of the Columbian: speed limits really aren’t set by safety, or laws, but rather based on the prevailing speed that folks will drive on a section of roadway. Generally the threshold is that the speed limit is set at a level such that 15% of drivers would naturally violate the limit.

I’d love to know more about this arbitrary system of lawmaking. Part of me wonders why the county should set a numerical speed limit at all, if that limit is in fact arbitrarily determined by the natural flow of traffic. If someone is driving at an excessive or reckless speed, cite them for reckless driving, but I don’t know that 5mph over the limit on a rural road (the focus of the article) is anything to get worked up about.

And given the article’s anecdote about how increased police saturation patrols are ineffective at lowering traffic speeds, I really wonder if the enforcement of minor speed limit violations is useful at all. Or perhaps I’m still bitter about the ticket I received a few months ago, written for 60mph in a 55mph zone.

3 Comments so far

  1. george (unregistered) on April 12th, 2007 @ 9:48 am

    yea, it sounds like you are just bitter.

    would you really have preferred the much more serious charge of reckless driving?

    i especially don’t understand why you call the speed limits “arbitrary lawmaking”. they explain the system in the article, it does not involve rolls of the dice or whims of lawmakers, rather speed limits are set by community standards. how is this arbitrary? shouldn’t all law be grounded in community standards?

  2. Banana Lee Fishbones (unregistered) on April 12th, 2007 @ 10:24 am

    Since when is it a good idea to create laws based on community standards? To keep on the subject of traffic, lots of people run stop signs, should we get rid of them?

    Sometimes you need a law to CHANGE a community standard. It wasn’t that long ago the “standard” was to treat women as second-class citizens.

  3. george (unregistered) on April 12th, 2007 @ 11:52 am

    laws have been enforcing community standards since there has been law. lots of people run stop signs, but it is the community standard to stop at them. so, i don’t understand that example.

    perhaps you meant, “roll through” stop signs?

    and yes, sometimes you want to be ahead of the curve (say to protect minority rights- in the example above regarding civil rights).

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