Summer is upon us and apart from BBQs, hanging around with friends and family on the deck, fresh local produce in the markets, and going to the beach, we can all look forward to the friendly neighbourhood speed trap.
Those who man the speed traps never seem to feel that anyone will be speeding when it’s wet or so stinking hot that sitting in a parked car is like being a Thanksgiving turkey roasting in the oven, minus the basting. On nice comfortable days I can always be assured of being protected from heavy-footed drivers zipping along roads that have parking spaces behind bushes. It seems a little convenient that the roads most in need of speed enforcement have the best kinds of shrubbery to provide cover for police cars.
You would think that speed traps would be on stretches of road that have the most accidents, but I’ve seen a grand total of two accidents on the road I have been using about ten times a week for eight years that hosts my local speed trap. Both accidents involved only one vehicle. Once I witnessed a car sliding off the road in icy conditions and it didn’t even hit anything else — the road crews salted and sanded the road up to the place where the woman slid off the road. The car, by the way, was travelling very slowly before going off the road. In the other case that I know about (because it was on the radio), an old guy stopped at a stop sign before entering traffic on “Speed Trap Alley”, had some kind of sudden medical crisis, hit the gas, and slammed into a telephone pole.
I live in a very small “city” (it’s more like a big town) where the radio traffic reports include reports on accidents that happen across the entire region. Once I heard a report about an accident in one of the city’s two big shopping plazas’ parking lots that was preventing people from leaving from the north exit! Of the parking lot! On the radio! If parking lot traffic makes it onto the radio here, I’m sure I would have heard about the daily or weekly problems on “Speed Trap Alley”.
Before anyone misunderstands and the company that makes nightstick training dummies gets flooded with requests from law enforcement officers for a new model that looks just like HoaiPhai, I just want to say that I like cops and always have. I truly respect what they do and am thankful they are around. I especially appreciate them saving my life by transporting me to hospital when I was a little kid. I just think that there’s more to speed traps than protecting the public.
I think that radar and laser assisted speed enforcement gives the police a way sit in one place and wait for a machine to beep and tell them that someone’s guilty, hundreds of times per day. It is a wonderful way for municipalities to raise revenues without doing much leg work and it’s all based on the premise that “speed kills”.
“Speed kills” had its origins in the beginning of the 19th Century when people began planning the building of railways. It was thought by many that exceeding 13 mph would cause trains’ occupants to die in a blinding green flash, but that never happened. Today’s astronauts travel at many thousands of miles per hour with no ill effects. “Speed kills” is the mantra used today to justify fining the public for behaviour that is arbitrarily deemed either acceptable or criminal depending on what side of a sign a motorist happens to be travelling.
Why should we believe the police that “speed kills” when they don’t even know what speed is? Speed is defined as the rate of displacement, i.e. the rate that something moves from one place to another, so when I hear the police say “The suspect was moving at a high rate of speed”, I cannot help but think to myself, “This guy’s such a doofus… speed is already a rate”. Saying “rate of speed” is like a cook talking about baking something at a high molecular vibration of temperature or an electrician talking about a low electric potential of voltage. I wouldn’t want the cook making my lunch or the electrician changing my light switch because they don’t have a handle on the basics. People who say “high rate of speed” don’t know what they’re talking about so why should we believe them about the comparatively more complex issue of the dangers of driving fast?
When someone says “Speed was a factor in the accident”, all I can think of is “Duh!”. If the speed of all vehicles in the area were “zero”, then there is virtually no chance of an accident! Someone has to be moving for a collision to happen and speed is simply the measurement of how quickly something moves from Point A to Point B. Just because a speed greater than zero is required to have a collision, it is a quantum logical leap to suggest that increasing speed, throughout the totality of the range of speeds attainable by a given vehicle, necessarily increases the probability of an accident independent of external influences.
If we were to test the theory that speed kills (or even the notion that the higher the speed, the greater the chance of an accident), we would have to build a long, very straight, perfectly maintained closed-to-the-public highway and then drive from one end to the other at different speeds and see if any deaths occur purely due to the speed and not due to other cars getting in the way, moose jaywalking at inopportune times, or tires blowing out.
Here’s another experiment. Take a car and drive it out onto a heavily travelled major highway on a really foggy night. Park it in the fast lane (the car’s speed is now zero and so it’s gotta be a safe thing to do), turn off the lights, and sit on the rear bumper with a pen and paper ready to take notes.
I bet you’re saying to yourselves, “There’s no way I’m going to do that… it’s plain crazy!” No, it’s not crazy, it’s dumb. That’s my premise, “Speed doesn’t kill, dumb kills.” I am willing to concede that driving too fast can, in some circumstances, be really dumb but dumbness cannot be measured by a radar gun and is probably the main factor in the majority of accidents.
Here are a couple of other ways the police demonstrate that they simply don’t know what they’re talking about:
Aggressive Driving — I’m sorry but aggression does not necessarily have anything to do with driving fast (the driver might be late getting to work) or passing another car (that’s what the dashed lines down the middle of the road are for… to tell drivers where they can legally pass someone). Aggression involves hostility, by definition. There’s a difference between aggressive driving and spirited driving. So what do you call it when one guy drives 20 km/h below the speed limit on a road with heavy oncoming traffic… passive-aggressive driving?
Speed Limits Haven’t Changed — In light of the incredible advances in engineering and materials sciences in the past twenty years, today’s vehicles are much safer and more capable than the cars that were around when the speed limits were set many decades ago. You’re using ray guns to dish out tickets, so join the rest of us in the 21st Century and raise the speed limits to numbers that modern cars can handle as well as the cars from the 1950s did when present-day speed limits were recommended by the insurance companies.
All Vehicles, Same Speed Limit — I have a funny feeling that my Integra Yoko can handle a little spirited driving better than, say, a Smart Car or a cube truck. Why don’t you employ some real experts in the field, like the guys on Top Gear, to classify vehicles in terms of speedworthiness and set different speed limits for different classes of vehicles? Certainly a Porsche can manoeuver, brake, and handle better at any given speed than a Ford F-150. Why do their drivers both get the same tickets for driving a certain amount beyond the same speed limit?
All Drivers, Same Fine — Some countries adjust fines according to the driver’s income so Bill Gates screaming down the road at 170 km/h isn’t paying fines equivalent to what he would spend on lunch while a dude who works part-time at Wal-Mart caught doing the same thing has to sell a kidney to keep his rump out of stir.
Standard Inflexible Speed Limits — On long stretches of highway, like some places on the 401 between Toronto and Montreal or on the Trans Canada running through The Prairies, there is no reason why you cannot drive 140 km/h in a good car in light traffic on a dry day. Why not have electronic speed limit signs that can be controlled by a regional traffic office that display updated speed limits according to actual driving conditions? The same signs could warn of things like accidents up around the bend, too.
Behind the Bushes for Safety’s Sake — C’mon! We don’t buy that baloney about cop cars hiding behind bushes because it’s safer being further from the road, you just want to play cat and mouse. ‘Fess up!
Fines are a Deterrent — Really? Then why are there speed traps at the same locations day after day targeting local traffic? We’re driving at the speeds you ticket us for but we’re not getting into accidents. Besides, is punishment the best you can come up with? Is that how you raise your kids, laying a whomp on them every time they make a mistake? Try a little positive reenforcement — pull people over that have done something courteous or who have not been speeding and give them a little thank-you card or a coupon for a free coffee and donut or something. Do you really want to deter fast driving? Here’s how you do it… 1.) Drive around with your flashy dome lights on all the time, like they do in Korea. Drivers will see you miles away and slow down way before they get into radar range. This will cause far more people to slow down than the present number of motorists with the genetic trait that allows them to see through foliage. You do want us to slow down, right? 2.) Standardize all police cars in the country so they are all the same model and are painted in day-glow reflective paint with stripes like a bee so everyone everywhere knows what you look like. Again, people will see you miles away and slow down. No exceptions to the colour scheme, like unmarked cars, except for special purposes like SWAT teams, et cetera, which would not be allowed to go out on traffic patrol. 3.) Allow radar detectors. If you guys have set up a speed trap somewhere, it’s because there’s a speeding problem there, right? When the civilian’s radar detector goes “beep” (or whatever… they’re not allowed where I live so I’ve never seen one in real life), they’ll slow down. That is what you want, isn’t it?
Part of the problem is that the legislators who dream up traffic laws and punishments get a lot of input from insurance companies. In light of the huge conflict of interest of having lawmakers influenced by private companies who base their premiums partly on the number of highway code infractions a person is found guilty of, I think insurance companies should be taken out of the loop immediately. I mean, if a guy regularly gets a bunch of “speeding” tickets but never has an accident, how is he a greater risk that warrants higher premiums? It seems like either he’s gotten tickets for breaking unrealistic laws or he’s a great driver that can avoid accidents in spite of his “bad” driving habits.
And why are the cops allowed to give the insurance companies information from private citizens’ files? Aren’t there privacy laws being broken here? Can the police send my employers info on my drunken fighting incidents or tell my neighbours that I was the one that dropped a dime on them that night they were beating their dog? I hope not. The legislators are in bed with the insurers and there’s a whole lot of pillow talk going on. It’s time to take back our right to privacy, drivers of the world, and to force insurance companies to charge fair premiums based on their individual customers’ claims.
While we’re on the subject of insurance companies, they should also be forced to disclose how much extra in premiums they will be collecting over the years for that $1,000 fender bender and let you decide if you want to pay out-of-pocket for the repairs without it going onto your record and increasing your “risk factor” until you officially file a claim. And, while we’re at it, as long as all the insurance companies have access to each others’ databases, why not make it law that a summary showing the total lifetime premiums collected by all insurance companies for the various types of coverage (auto, home, life, etc.) versus the total indemnities paid out by the companies be shown on all policies and premiums bills? On my microscopic pay cheque I get a running total of my accrued vacation pay so I’m sure it would be workable for the insurance companies. And while the cops and the insurance companies are talking, why doesn’t the insurance company send the policy info to the cops so they can have it on file so I don’t have to carry a dinky little “Proof of Insurance” certificate with me at all times?
Another thing that really burns me is the fabrication of “designer infractions” to punish people in new and exciting ways for doing things that were already on the books as being no-nos. Now, I want to make it very clear that I’m not talking about drunk driving — they should have a two-tiered approach like they now have in many jurisdictions where if you’re above a certain nominal blood-alcohol level you get a warning and are not allowed to drive home and it doesn’t cost you a dime in fines. Above another level and you lose the car and your license for a goodly long time, heavy fines for a first offense, and mandatory jail for repeat offenders. Even I would not joke about the seriousness of drunk driving. Those convicted of drunk driving should not be allowed to drive “hobby trucks” for the first ten years after they get their licences back. I’d even go so far as making those convicted of DUI install transparent doors on their cars for that crucial first decade so the cops can just pull up beside them in traffic and take a peek to make sure there are no open bottles in the car. That’s how serious I am about drunk driving.
The designer infractions I’m talking about are “street racing” and “stunt driving”. “Street racing” here in Ontario is when you are going 50 km/h or more over the posted speed limit, even if you’re not actually racing anyone. You can lose your car and driver’s license at the roadside without so much as a trial. “Stunt driving” doesn’t have to involve ramps and the Snake River Canyon — you can be charged with this for doing donuts in a parking lot or even just chirping your tires.
And these designer infractions seem to target the motoring youth. The very best drivers I have ever known were Tim, Teriyaki, and Claude the Italian when they were teens, and every last one of them would still be in jail if they had these designer infractions in the ’70s. It is when you are young you test the limits of your abilities and you achieve a level of skill that sets the high mark from which the future decades of aging and human deterioration whittle away. If we remove teens’ ability to test the limits of their skill, then we’re going to have some seriously pathetic drivers predominating the roads around the year 2050. Besides, these laws take all the fun out of being young. Coupled with the fact that these days the music doesn’t hold a candle to what we had in the ’70s and that teenage girls don’t wear tube-tops anymore, it hardly seems worth being a teenage guy anymore.
There are plenty of other high-dumbness vehicular behaviours that police could be ticketing people for while keeping their jurisdictions’ coffers stuffed fuller than a custard donut. You can even use a modified radar gun for one of them! Let’s see what we can come up with…
Hobby Truck Laws — First of all, a hobby truck (also known as a “highway hippo”) is a large vehicle owned and operated as though it were a personal conveyance. Vehicle companies sometimes classify them as vans, pick-up trucks, SUVs, crossovers, etc. Handling like watermelons on stilts, they are inherently harder to control and their sheer size brings more mass into a collision, creating a danger to other motorists, pedestrians, and fortified brick walls they may hit while careening out of control. To compound the danger, they offer the driver a false sense of safety. If Mrs. HoaiPhai cannot see over the roof of the passenger compartment while standing in running shoes or I cannot see over the hood to check for cross traffic when the light goes green as I’m driving Mitsumi, it’s a truck. They should only be used for hauling stuff so the cops should be treating them like commercial cargo vehicles, like ticketing them for being anywhere but in the right-hand lane, not having valid manifests and driver’s logs, and not stopping at weigh stations. I picked up an assembly-required 6-foot picnic table with Yoko, so you don’t need a truck. Buy a sedan and when you need to haul something, either have it delivered or rent a truck for the day… you’ll save money overall. If you need the extra space for your kids, my question to you is, “What the hell are you feeding them?” Put them on a diet, butter their hips, and shoehorn them into the back seat of a nice sedan or station wagon. The death penalty should be brought back for those who slap big-rimmed low profile tires on off-road vehicles and other hobby trucks. They can no longer be used off-road and if their owners are spending huge chunks of change going low profile in an effort to improve handling, they should have bought a coupe in the first place because that truck is never going to handle like a car.
Tailgating — Here’s one the police can re-task their radar guns to detect. A radar gun could be set up to compare the distances of two vehicles and their speed to determine if the second vehicle is following too close for the given speed. We can even draft a new “designer law” for this one… if the following vehicle has headlights high enough to shine directly into the leading vehicle’s rear window and/or the following vehicle has a gross vehicular weight significantly greater than the vehicle it is tailgating, then the driver is guilty of “Highway Bullying” and loses the vehicle and the right to drive anything larger than a Passat for a decade on top of hefty fines that provide income to the local government.
DUI Checkpoints — Why not set up checkpoints right outside the parking lots of bars, strip joints, and other establishments where a large slice of their business comes from selling alcoholic drinks for consumption on the premises? Why are these places allowed to have parking lots in the first place?
Turn Signal Enforcement — Turn signals are meant to be used to show your intention to make a turn and are to be engaged before beginning the manoeuver. They are to be turned on before applying the brakes in anticipation of your change of direction and/or lane, even at an obligatory stop signal. Nobody seems to do this anymore. Municipalities could gold plate their mayors if a concerted effort was made to ticket these offenders.
Cellphones in Cars — Great! You’ve made using cellphones or texting devices by the driver a designer offence but haven’t gone far enough. Set up mobile observation posts (a guy with binoculars and a walkie-talkie) to radio cruisers to nab these criminals. Bump up the penalty to include prohibiting the use or possession of a cellphone for a given length of time, even when not in a car. Do follow-up spot checks of those convicted. That’ll really get the cellheads where they live!
Center Line Centurions — It seems like most people where I live think the objective of driving is to have the side view mirror over the center line or to have the driver’s side wheels tracking on the center line — I call this practice “The Ontario Monorail”. Being so far over in the lane not only risks accidents if another driver doing the same thing approaches from the other direction, but makes it impossible for those following to see the road ahead without sneaking into the oncoming lane. Cruisers should come equipped with hammers to remove mirrors that spend too much time over the line.
Left Lane Loafers — The police should go on unannounced blitzes to get these guys into the right-hand lanes. Drivers, this is how it works… look to your right. If you are not travelling faster than the cars in that lane (or if there are no cars there), then that’s the lane you belong in. Repeat until you get out of my way.
Lighting Idiots — There are two types here… the under-achievers and the under-achievers. The over-achievers tend to be highway hippo drivers that drive with their fog lights and roof rack rally lights on in addition to the normal lights. The under-achievers drive around with one light burnt out (sometimes turning on the high beams on the one side that actually works to compensate for the cycloptic disability). Also there are complete idiots that put those cheesy dark plastic light covers on the headlights and tail lights in an effort to make his Chevette look sportier and more exotic. The hammer you use for Center Line Centurions’ mirrors could also be used here.
Lift Bridge Loitering — I live near a canal that I have to cross in order to get to work. Luckily, there are four lift bridges that I can cross, each one five minutes or less from the next one. The problem I come across is when one bridge is up, people put their cars in park to wait the half hour for it to come down again and the lines can get pretty long. So long that the line of cars will extend well beyond the intersection that will take me to the next bridge, forcing me to cross a solid center line and drive down the wrong side of the road so I can get to the legal detour. The radio stations know when the bridges are up so why don’t the police keep themselves informed of this and travel around in packs of five or six safety-orange cruisers and ticket everyone blocking traffic. The ship going down the canal will cause the next bridge to go up in about twenty minutes so the Lift Bridge Squad will have plenty to do all day.
Kids’ Safety — Remember those unmarked traffic patrol cars we took off the roads? No need to write them off, I have a use for them. Why not drive them along school bus routes about ten minutes ahead of the school buses and look for the pervs that try to lure kids into their cars using the old “I lost my puppy” line? Once the kids are safely in school, stake out the parks looking for the monsters that put razor blades on the monkey bars and screwdrivers in the sand pointed at the end of the slide. Surely this is time better spent than ticketing fifty drivers for going 10 km/h over the speed limit.
I have a couple of non-vehicular laws I’ve come up with that don’t have anything to do with traffic but are worth honorable mention…
The Shoe is on the Other Foot Law — The victims of thieves and robbers should be allowed into the criminals’ private homes and take whatever they want, including the contents of their bank accounts as well as their ID and banking cards. Let the crooks jump through hoops trying to replace everything. Rich guys who scam people out of their life savings should lose everything they, and their families living with them, possess and not be allowed to work anywhere for more than 20% above minimum wage for the rest of their lives. Oh, and restrict their movements so they cannot leave the country and get to their off-shore accounts. A simple way to do this would be to take one of those tracking bracelets they put on people on parole and surgically install it around the fraudster’s vertebral column. Yearly tax audits and an occasional home inspection will make sure they’re not living on hidden income. Oh, and they cannot buy lotto tickets, gamble, or receive gifts woth more than $100.
Labour Laws — Have the Labour Board go around and do spot checks to see if employees and not being taken advantage of. Employees tend not to report Labour Code infractions for fear of getting fired so let’s put some people on the problem and proactively remedy the wide-spread problems endured by millions of workers who, until now, had to file a complaint in order to safeguard their legal rights. Companies that seek investors should have to provide their employees with the very same prospectus they give investors and prospective investors (that’ll come in handy when the employee asks for a raise but the employer says that the company doesn’t have the money!). Also, companies that hire many people should not be allowed to have everyone as part-time staff. Part-timers don’t get the same benefits and are cheaper for the employers to keep on. Divide the total man-hours per week by the standard number of hours worked per week per full-timer and you have the total number of employees you need. At the very least give part-time employees that have been there for at least a year the right to demand full-time work.
Political Integrity Laws — When politicians are campaigning for office, they should have to register their promises and not be allowed to promise anything not registered. If they win and take office, they should be held to their promises, such as “No new taxes”. Failure to act on their registered promises (or implementing policies in direct opposition to what they previously promised) gets them removed from office, disqualifies them from their governmental pensions, and disallows them from running for any political posting for a period of three regular terms of office. Whenever they are shown on TV, the little graphic that shows their name must include something to the effect of “Convicted of breaking campaign promises”. If they are campaigning at the time, the warning message must blink at a rate of one hertz.
There we have it, about 4600 words of wisdom that will bring justice and peace to the world.
Do you have any ideas for new laws? Sound off below!
- Escort Live Social Network Protects You From Speed Traps (pcworld.com)
- Watch Out, Speed Demons: Website Ranks Cities with Most Speed Traps (newsfeed.time.com)
- Which U.S. Cities Have the Worst Speed Traps? (newsfeed.time.com)
- Sharing Where Speed Traps Lie (nytimes.com)
- Apple faces concerns over iPad ‘speed trap’ – Fox News (foxnews.com)
- Chicago’s Speed Trap Controversy (onetoughread.wordpress.com)