It is a traditional, particularly eighteenth and nineteenth century idea, that evil comes from sin and therefore punishment of sin is a righteous remedy to evil. And what could be more evil than a fatal car accident?
Drink maybe? Temperance arose out of the idea that the plight of the poor in the first centuries of industrialization was a result of sin; the evils of drink in particular. It was clear that the noble factory owner, excellent church attendance, good manners, wealth and status, he could not be at fault. No, poverty destitution and ruin among the working class had to be a consequence of their sinful intoxication. Enforced temperance would eliminate the sin of drunkenness and the poor would be uplifted. So we got prohibition.
Maybe promiscuity? It has long been understood by misogynists that the suffering of women is in large part a natural consequence of their feminine weakness. Women must restrict themselves to modest obedient behaviour. If they don’t, they must end in ruin, and the virtuous will be sure to see to that. Punishing and shaming, women who do not comply has been a remedy to sin. And so we get all the institutions and petty violences that have been set against women.
And it is well known that, “speed kills.” We have been habituated to the idea that the key to road safety is always slowing everyone down. Therefore it is naturally assumed that what we really need to make roads safer is to punish “speeders.” The act of enforcing posted speed limits by punishing the sin of speeding will set us free.
But the condition of the poor wasn’t a consequence of drunkenness. Drunkenness was a symptom of their outrageous exploitation despair and destitution.
The ruin of “loose” women was never a result of their having gotten unlucky in the course of natural sexual behaviour. It was a result of rampant abuse by men, the absence of reproductive health services and relentless persecution by the righteous.
I have argued elsewhere about the unreality of “speeding” being a widespread serious threat to road safety. So here I just want to make this point. While no one is likely to object to measures to improve road safety, arbitrary speed enforcement is a red herring. We are treating the speed of traffic as Salvationists would treat drinking or sex; as sin. And treating speed as sin, we seek in our vengeful simple-minded way to remedy a largely fantastic ill by punishing sinners.
There are lots of things we could do to improve road safety. Doubling and redoubling transit infrastructure would be best. Redesigning every city to have the kind of pedestrian infrastructure you can see working so well in Utrecht, that would be awesome. But those real measures would require capital investment in infrastructure and take decades to accomplish.
We could even require motor vehicle operators to be universally properly trained and periodically recertified. But that would be expensive and I think deemed intrusive.
So, for now we pretend that giving out more tickets with more automation will suffice. We will arbitrarily punish the imagined sinner and I expect it will work about as well as indulgence in persecution always does.