Monday, November 3, 2008

Traffic fascism

Seems the Gigantic Blog Woman has fallen afoul of the revenue-hungry gendarmes:
Apparently, if you pass a stopped emergency vehicle (including a trooper on a traffic stop) without pulling into the left lane, you can be liable for a huge ticket in Virginia. DC area drivers, take note; they can pull you over even if you're going to the limit and not endangering the trooper. I don't know about other parts of the country, but around here governments are partially dealing with their revenue shortfall by upping their traffic enforcement to outrageously persnickety levels; my sister got a ticket the other day for stopping at a stop sign for three seconds instead of the apparently requisite five. There were no other cars around--except for the cop who handed her a gigantic ticket.
When Bill Clinton promised to put "100,000 new cops on the street," most of us pictured Officer O'Malley walking the beat in New York City, rousting hooligans and ne'er-do-wells. What we got instead seems to be a three-fold increase in the number of state troopers doing radar speed enforcement. Dozens of those "100,000 new cops" are staked out daily on I-70 and I-270 just waiting to catch me on a run to DC.

Some communities are now absurdly overpoliced. When I lived in Montgomery County, my mind boggled at the fact that no motorist was ever pulled over by a single patrol car. Every routine traffic stop seemed to require at least three additional units responding as backup. I recall one memorable occasion when someone's party (not mine) got a little rowdy on a Saturday night and no fewer than 11 cars responded to the apartment complex where I lived.

Traffic enforcement ought to be oriented toward safety. I am 49 years old and haven't been at fault in an accident since my sophomore year in college. (About 15 years ago, I got rear-ended by an unlicensed driver, and this spring I got my front bumper whacked by a young idiot woman who ran a red light in DC.)

My long record of highway safety, however, does not protect me from state troopers doing what they do best: Hiding on the interstate during off-peak hours and busting me for doing 80-something on the open road. This is nonsensical, and does nothing to improve safety. Cato or some other libertarian think tank should do a study, because I think it could be demonstrated that very few accidents can be attributed to middle-aged men merely driving fast in light traffic on the interstate.

Between Clarksburg and Germantown on I-270, there is a glorious downhill stretch of wide-shouldered freeway with three southbound lanes. At 1 p.m. in the afternoon, the traffic is so light along there that no one would be endangered by my driving that highway at 120 mph, a fact of which I am certain (and never mind how I obtained that certainty). However, there is a spot, just above a tree-hidden curve at the end of that stretch, where every other afternoon the troopers await with radar to surprise any driver who doesn't slow down to 70 mph in time (71 mph being the point at which the 55 mph speed limit is actually enforced).

The motorist who happens to get stuck in afternoon rush-hour traffic going north on I-270 about 6 p.m. on a weekday can't help but notice that on the southbound side of the highway -- where traffic is light to non-existent at that hour -- he will periodically see troopers doing traffic stops on speeders. What earthly sense is there in that? The big problem on weekday afternoons in Montgomery County is not the speed of motorists going south, but the lack of speed of those going north.

What causes most accidents on freeways? From what I've seen -- due to near-misses with various morons -- it's people who fail to check their blind spot before lane-changing to their left. This astonishingly common error most often occurs in medium-to-heavy traffic, and speed has nothing to do with it. The culprit is either stupidity, inattention or bad eyesight. (People wearing glasses have very limited peripheral vision, and the next time you find yourself swerving or braking to avoid some idiot lane-changer, take note of whether the idiot is wearing glasses.)

Traffic enforcement fails to take account of the reality of the road. The DMV keeps issuing licenses to half-blind subnormals -- so the roads are jammed full of those who by rights ought to take the bus -- and the troopers keep slapping tickets on us aristocrats of speed who were Born to Drive. Procrustean injustice!

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