What is ‘speeding’ really?

I was Toronto bound on the QEW, muttering about the few pokey drivers obstructing traffic and causing occasional patches of congestion. A car raced up next to me, only avoiding rear-ending the car ahead on my right by deeking into my lane close in front of me. Then they accelerated into the left lane, shot up behind the next vehicle and cut back into the centre lane close in front of a vehicle two or three ahead of me. Then they dived into the right lane again and so on. Off they went. Thankfully I never saw them again that I know of.

That is a speeder.
That person is speeding.
That person is driving too fast and recklessly.

On the other hand, with the exception of the few pokey drivers, the rest of the body of traffic, through which the speeder sped, was traveling between 110 and 120, as is normally the case; as is always the case unless there is some slowdown or congestion that restricts the speed of traffic. And yet the posted limit is 100. So in a sense is everyone speeding? No! In normal traffic, in good weather, drivers choose their speed according to the road design and present conditions. And if the posted limit is 10–20 kmph slower, it is simply wrong.

In a context in which very little has been done to train drivers properly or really do anything that is not structural to make roads safer, governments and safety advocates have fallen on blaming speeding for danger. But if their definition of speeding is simply exceeding an unrealistic posted limit, then it cannot be the case that this speeding is a hazard that needs to be dealt with through enforcement.

Posted limits are arbitrary. If everyone were obeying them, you could make everyone speeders by just lowering the posted limit. And posted limits in Ontario are typically quite shy of the road design specs and what drivers agree by common consent should be the speed of traffic.

And the goal of reducing the speed of traffic is not worthwhile. If successful, reducing the speed of traffic would increase all driver’s trip times, increasing the amount of traffic, increasing congestion, and thus increasing the risk of collisions. And increased enforcement, as was the case when Ontario tried on photo radar, causes sudden abrupt changes in traffic flow, from normal to paranoid, which are themselves quite dangerous and create a feedback loop of worsening congestion.

So I come to Durham Region opting to spend no doubt considerable monies on automated speed enforcement. There is no way this can be an effective safety measure. But it is safety-policy signalling. And I am sure that some advocates imagine that they are working toward safer roads. What they are in fact doing is setting up a system for the regional municipality to automatically collect a stream of revenue by preying upon members of their own community without immediate purpose, and effectively without their victims having access to due process.

They say, “The best way to avoid a speeding ticket is to not speed at all.” but this is an entirely unrealistic expectation. It is not that most people are driving too fast, unsafely. It is that the posted limits are unrealistic. And it is self evident that most people, and the body of traffic as a whole, do not agree with them.

We have become habituated to the idea that speed kills through endless safety campaigns. So it can be expected that in response to fear or tragedy or even petulance, we return over again to the idea that slowing traffic will preclude tragedy. And that punishing people driving normally will put them in their place. And automating that persecution is clean and cheap and entirely unscrupulous. Governments should not automate any kind of enforcement. Every such effort is a dystopian nightmare in the making. Arbitrary justice is not justice. There should never be automated speed enforcement.

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Dave

I am an experienced freelance graphic artist and sometime canoeist. I feel strongly about the quality of professional work and like sitting by a remote lake on a sun-warmed rock.

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