Monday, April 11, 2011

The limitations of speed limits

Ohio, of course, has a national reputation for being a police state when it comes to speed limits -- while every surrounding state except Pennsylvania sets a 70 limit, we insist on 65. That reputation was enshrined in American popular culture in the opening to the madcap cross-country race in the film Cannonball Run (1981), in which the announcer said:
Of course you know certain skeptics note that perhaps 10,000 of the nation's most elite highway patrolmen are out there waiting for us after we start, but let's stay positive: Think of the fact that there's not one state in the 50 that has the death penalty for speeding... although I'm not so sure about Ohio.
As Eric Peters points out at, what are legally "speed limits" represent no such thing logically:
A legitimate speed limit (not a speed that amounts to the de facto normal cruising speed or average traffic flow of most cars on the road, as current “speed limits” are) ought to be about 85-90 mph on most roads. It’s ridiculous that the “limit” – as we Americans define it – amounts to the speed most cars are cruising along at. A speed limit ought to be just that – the absolute maximum safe speed for that road under ideal conditions.

Highlighting that absurdity is the fact that most interstate highways prior to 1974 had a speed limit of 70, but following an Act of Congress that year, the maximum "safe" speed suddenly went down to 55. (The act was repealed in 1994, with little observable change in the accident rate).
Even in our "police state," there are many stretches of highway where the car going 65 (which I do to save gas) becomes the slowest car on the road.

All of this leads up to another stroke for liberty in the making in the soon-to-be Republic of Texas -- a bill to increase its speed limit to 85 mph -- which makes perfect sense on the vast stretches of lightly-traveled rural highway in that and other Western states; but is mind-boggling to most of us in Ohio. (Please, I am not suggesting an 85 limit in Ohio -- but perhaps we could justify 70 or 75 on some open stretches of I-70, I-71, and I-75).

Makes you wonder, are higher limits as much a threat to safety as they are to revenue?

The rule in a libertarian society would be no speed limits, but if you cause an accident as the result of reckless driving, you or your insurance company will be sued, and the damages will hurt a lot more than the fines.

Virtual buckeye to Andy Myers. 

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