Hannah Elliott at Forbes tells us “How to Beat a Speeding Ticket“. The advice given is sound, but unremarkable: be submissive to the cop, don’t admit anything, if the ticket is issued hold them to all the technical details. The usual stuff.

The howlers come in the leadin, where Ms. Elliott talks about speed limits in general:

“That [speed limit] is for the condition of the roadway, the amount of traffic that’s in that area [and] environmental conditions that may exist,” says Sgt. Kern Swoboda of the New York State Police. “All those are taken into consideration when a speed limit is posted. It’s not a recommendation.”

Don’t you just know he was sincere when he said that? After all, sincerity is key — once you learn to fake that, you can get away with all kinds of things.

Having watched Sgt. Swoboda lie with a straight face, Hannah lets him do it again:

Swoboda says speeding tickets are not issued to make up for police-department budget deficits. It’s about safety, he says, and the numbers don’t lie. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 40,000 people are killed each year in auto accidents; speeding is a factor in 30% of those crashes.

Here in Texas, the speed limit on the open Interstate — four lanes, divided, limited access, with hundred-foot (minimum) medians and side right of way, mostly with fairly decent surfaces and all the signs, bridges, etc. guardrailed, buffered, and/or built as breakaways in case of high-speed strikes — is 65 MPH except in cities (where it’s less) and a few places ‘way out West where there’s nothing to hit. But you see that narrow overcrossing just ahead? The one with a short exit to it, and a sign that says “FM something-or-other”? That will lead you to a two-lane, “two-rod” (i.e., about 30 feet wide) undivided winding road through the country, with a total of 100 feet of right-of-way including the surface and both verges, hemmed in by mailboxes and solid concrete creek crossings with no or minimal guardrails, let alone buffers, and populated by farmers driving tractors with implements on at five miles an hour.

Speed limit on FM roads? 70 MPH. Posted and everything.

My experience in New York is not extensive, but is really no different. As with any other State, the speed limits are set by the Legislature and/or local authorities, and applied as blanket policies regardless of actual conditions — the limit on a section of Interstate that sees six cars an hour through open country is the same as that where it winds through hills in heavy traffic next to a town, and the secondary roads are similarly posted. Just as the Texas example demonstrates, they’re arbitrary. The notion that any engineer or other knowledgeable person ever considered “…the condition of the roadway, the amount of traffic that’s in that area [and] environmental conditions…” before putting up the sign is too ludicrous to be laughable.

As for safety, that’s equally risible. When “double nickels” was imposed by that very same NHTSB, the accident rate went up, not down — and I’m not going to provide you a link to that; look it up yourself, so you know I’m not cherrypicking. Oh, and the fraction of accidents where speed was a factor stayed about the same. It’s quite true that high-speed accidents tend to be much, much nastier than low-speed ones; if the crash I had a couple months ago had been at even 15 MPH instead of 5, I might not be here to bitch. But there’s no limit to that, is there? If we all had to poke along at 10 MPH on the freeway, there wouldn’t be many fatalities in wrecks. That wouldn’t end the fatalities, though. Consider the number of people who would grow old and die trying to drive between Denver and Salt Lake City. Like everything else, speed is a tradeoff of advantages and disadvantages.

Denying that it’s all about revenue at least has the advantage that it isn’t always about revenue. There are lots of places where speeding fines are a trivial part of the City or County budget.

That’s the way to bet, though. There’s a town in Texas called Estelline; look where the Red River meets the north-south eastern boundary of the Panhandle, and there it is, just south of the river on Highway 287. Estelline used to be legendary. Approaching it from the east, there’s a sharp curve to the right; just before the curve the posted signs went from highway speeds (70 MPH, in those days) down to 30 MPH within about 200 yards, and the town’s policeman sat under an awning just where the curve straightens out again. Ca$h bonanza! Then the State of Texas passed an interesting law: speeding fines on State and Federal highways go to the State, and are returned to municipalities according to the size of their police forces, not how many tickets they write. If you drive through Estelline nowadays, the likelihood that you’ll see a cop is near nil.

There is one sometimes, though, and the speed limit signs are still where they always were; you can definitely get a ticket in Estelline if you aren’t lucky. It’ll probably be from a State Trooper rather than a local cop, because without ticket revenue tiny Estelline can’t afford to maintain much of a police department. But if it isn’t safety, and it isn’t revenue, what’s all that for?

What’s the first advice, above, for avoiding a ticket? –be obsequious to the cop; yessir nosir you’re the badass and I cringe and cry is a very good strategy for getting the policeman to put his ticket book away, although it isn’t perfect. One of my father’s favorite stories was the time he took my youngest brother’s hopped-up, jacked-up hot rod to Houston for my middle brother to use; he got stopped in a college town, and watched with amusement as the officer hitched up his gunbelt, straightened his tie and gig-line, and carefully arranged his mirror sunshades — and nearly laughed out loud when the cop’s face fell, upon discovering a fifty-something-year-old man in a coat and tie driving the vehicle, instead of an eighteen-year-old kid he could get his rocks off by hassling.

The police themselves call it presence. They want you to believe, all the time, that there’s a cop looking over your shoulder so’s you’ll behave. Since the War on Drugs makes that laughable to the point of ludicrousness, they have to be hardasses with the easy stuff in order to feel in control.

George III and Parliament kept a standing army in the Colonies, and not only had them maintain a constant presence by patrolling the streets, had them quartered — that is, living and getting fed — in the homes of ordinary citizens, especially those suspected of being unsympathetic to the authority of the Crown. The goal was to intimidate, to convince people that their desire for liberty and independence was futile, because there would always be a soldier nearby to exert authority over dissenters. That’s why the Framers and Founders had such a horror of standing armies.

And that’s what speed limits are for. They keep you looking over your shoulder for the people who are (or want to be) in control. It is, perhaps, something of a pity that the Tsar of the Russias didn’t get the okhrana fully established and famous before the American Revolution.

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