• Christopher Heaps

Is driving the speed limit an act of civil disobedience?

Over at Bikeportland, intrepid reporter Jonathan Maus has the story of Leslie Carlson, a Portlander who has made a concerted effort to drive at or below the speed limit. Why? Because excessive speed is the/a cause of an alarming number of deaths and injuries on the road.

Leslie's story, and the responsive comments, are filled with reports of other drivers reacting "noticeably" to the lower speed, and not in a good way. I too have had the experience of having a frustrated driver tailgate and pass dangerously in an attempt to resume driving illegally. In today's America, road rage is a surprisingly common reaction to people simply obeying the posted speed limit.

For people sick and tired of the totally unnecessary carnage on our streets (and I count myself among them), driving the speed limit has become an act of civil disobedience. You may be able to speed, tailgate, and pass dangerously with impunity, but you can't make me do it too! Perhaps this is the start of a new social movement?

For me, as an "officer of the court," the critical question is why people are allowed to drive so recklessly? How many times have you been driving down I-5 (or any other road in Oregon) and realized that literally everyone driving is breaking the law? No one, apparently, is concerned about receiving a speeding ticket.

The traffic laws are seemingly almost never enforced, and speeding seems to be completely overlooked. The result is a culture of reckless abandon on the roads, where practically any action that doesn't make contact with another vehicle is tolerated. When the traffic laws are enforced, there seems to be a different agenda at play.

So, here's an entire area of law, one that people encounter every day, where a long-term lack of effective enforcement has created a culture of recklessness that is literally killing us. This is an abject failure of the legal system. It really is incredible, and incredibly stupid, if you think about it.

Solving this problem is going to require a huge effort by police to re-establish order on the roads without any of the civil rights violations that have come with enforcement so far. It will also require a culture change. And, judging by the response of Portlanders to the Leslie Carlson story, that may finally be starting.

If the traffic laws ever do get enforced regularly, I have some bad news for the speed demons. Oregon's speed limit isn't just what's posted on a road sign. The Vehicle Code provides that the actual speed limit at any time is governed by the "basic speed rule," which states that a driver may not drive faster than "is reasonable and prudent" under the prevailing conditions, including factors such as traffic, weather, and visibility. In other words, all that rain lowers the speed limit even further!

Oh, and if you hated those critical mass rides that slowed our commute back in the day, I have some bad news for ya: You just might have incited the motorized version!

It's time to slow down, Homer!

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