The Elitism Of Speed Limits

Ezra set off a brief series of discussions today about speed limits by getting behind the proposal to install a hard limiter which would prevent American cars from driving over the national speed limit of 75 mph.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but ideas like this are a big reason that liberalism has such a bad name.  There are times and places when driving over 75 is completely reasonable.  For one thing, Kansas.  Kansas is big and flat, and once you’re there you want to do everything in your power to get the hell out of Kansas as quickly as you can, damn the 75 mph speed limit.  And, slightly less sarcastically, there really are plenty of roads out there which are wide, and flat, and when traffic conditions are low, 75 mph is nowhere near the upper limit of safe driving speeds.  I-10 between San Antonio and El Paso is one example, I-90 between Rapid City and Sioux Falls, SD is another.

For another, in the West, we have lots of areas that are quite hilly, with rolling hills that can go from 4 or 5% grade uphill to a similar downhill grade, over and over again.  On some roads, for a variety of reasons, you might only have passing lanes when you are going downhill.  Dealing with 18 wheeler trucks can be incredibly frustrating on these roads, as these behemoths will putter up the hills at 50 mph, then rapidly accelerate to 75 or 80 when heading downhill.  I once got stuck behind a big truck and, after 15 minutes of driving like this, I finally decided to pass him, and had to do 90 just to get around him on one of the downhill sections.  Thank goodness this was an option.

Frankly, I think this is one of those coastal elite issues.  Someone who has lived mostly in California or the D.C.-to-Boston metro corridor could never imagine a particularly driving reason to go much above 75 mph.  As someone who has driven from Denver to Phoenix, and from Denver to Yellowstone, I can assure you that there are plenty of situations where this is entirely safe and appropriate.

Several of Ezra’s commenters mentioned this, but the appropriate response here is not more arbitrary rules, but to implement requirements for drivers to actually have to pass some serious training and examinations before being given their driver’s licenses.  In most first world countries, driving really is a privelege, not a right – you have to take classes, and do many hours of training, and pass a rigorous driving exam, before you can get your license.  In the U.S., you go through a cursory class in high school, pass a written exam which is more interested in if you know how close you’re allowed to park to a fire hydrant than if you really understand the concept of safe following distance on a highway, and voila!  Try not to kill yourself on the drive home!

Plus, someone who shows themselves to be a serial violator of the driving rules, including speed limit violation in unsafe fashion, should get their license suspended or revoked.  That would be a policy which would improve safety, reduce lives lost, and preserve liberty, all at the same time.


2 Responses to The Elitism Of Speed Limits

  1. LT says:

    I can imagine many reasons for going above 75 in the DC-Boston corridor. Certainly there are fewer opportunities, but not really any fewer reasons. And yes, they do suspend and revoke licenses for speeding violations. You just have to have enough violations within a certain time span. Or at least that’s the case in Virginia.

  2. […] Speed and Efficiency (OR Two Birds) I’m late to the party, I know, but I wanted to add another perspective on the whole speed limit thing. […]

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