Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Weird Stuff In the Media: Speeding In New Jersey

A few days ago in one of our local papers here in the great Garden State, an article was printed that was headlined something like "The GSP's Speeding Problem" and its subtitle wailed something like "Try to go 68 miles-per-hour on the Parkway, and you may find it's just not possible." Well, talk about a talent for stating the obvious!

It seems that there are a few people in this country who hold the heady intellectual belief that all laws should be absolutely obeyed and enforced. Why? Just 'cuz. These people think even speeding is a grave sin, and that those who dare to speed are moral hypocrites who deserve what they get. Among the real goons of the conservatives-- not the evil nerds-- this is a great way to brainwash people: find really anal personalities, and then tell them that their obsession with things like strictly obeying every law (except the ones that protect against hurting people for their political beliefs) is what proves that they are better than everyone else and entitled to make judgments about and hurt other people. It's my belief that it's from the authoritarian personality types that these anti-speeding articles, which I've seen a few of, have their impetus or origin.

After all, if you look at an article like that, it makes it sound as if the reason you can't go within a few miles of the posted speed limit on some stretches of the Turnpike or Parkway is that there are a few jerks who every once in a while come zooming by at 87 mph. That is hardly the case. But in fact, the reason you can't go within 3 mph of the speed limit on some places on the GSP or the Turnpike is that everybody goes 10 mph over the limit. The State Troopers never crack down on it! In a place like that, if you tried to go just 3 mph over the posted limit, you're the one who has a problem and is screwing up traffic.

Despite the posted limit on these stretches, and despite the fact that if you get into an accident at a higher speed you're more likely to suffer worse injuries, people handle their cars fine at speeds of 10 or 15 mph over the limit in those areas every day-- and everybody who know anything about NJ knows this! It's logical to think that if somehow we all magically went under the presently posted limits all the time with perfect obedience, a few more people in NJ wouldn't die or be maimed every year. But that would probably mostly be due to intoxicated drivers and stoned drivers who drive over the speed limit, who drive worse than the non-stoned, non-drunk, vast majority of drivers (in other words, almost everybody) who break the speed limit. And, if we didn't go over the limit in these stretches, it certainly would end up in a lot less getting done in NJ. In light of how much thick automobile traffic there is in New Jersey, I think it's realistic even to predict that it might hurt our economy badly, that NJ wouldn't even "work" without this cheating on the speed limit. The law enforcement authorities seem to know it. This is why I think articles like the one I am complaining about are written mostly for some kind of propaganda effect-- to promote these people's belief in authoritarianism.

Many people who promote the zero-tolerance anti-speeding view might argue that allowing any laws to be broken encourages general disrespect for the law. But since when is the law my lord and master? Lots of people who have been law-makers have been wicked, and history has been fraught with wicked laws. Understanding that the law isn't an absolute and that it is as good as its effects and no better is wisdom. In this way, the non-enforcement of posted speed limits that are practically non-accurate serves a training purpose in society, just like the myth of Santa Claus seems to train kids to not take everything people say so seriously-- it shows us that laws are not an end in themselves, but only as good as how useful they are, and are appropriate subject matter to be discussed, critically thought about, and occasionally changed.