Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Speed Limits and Local Government Corruption

Have you ever driven on a road that seemed like the speed limit should be higher than it is? I'd like to write a short post about speed limits, why we need speed limits, what should set speed limits, and where money from speed limits should go.

Why do we need speed limits? Speed limits provide guidance to drivers to tell them the maximum safe speed they can drive. Unfortunately, the maximum safe speed is dependent on weather, traffic level, construction, etc. and speed limits don't normally reflect that. We leave it up to drivers to determine based on the road conditions how far below the speed limit they should drive. Speed limits also provide a reason for a police officer to pull reckless drivers over. It might be easier to prove speeding in court than reckless driving because speeding is more specific. I don't have a strong opinion on whether we need speed limits or if we could just get rid of them, but I do have an opinion on a related topic; how should speed limits be set?

Speed limits should be set based on safety. Unfortunately, there is a dangerous conflict of interest for lawmakers to set speed limits not on the maximum safe speed, but based on revenue generation instead. Let's say you were an average looter politician trying to get more funding to run your constituents lives under the guise of safety. However, your projects all have that nasty funding requirement, and the constituents are fed up with your tax increase proposals. What's another way to receive funding? You could just lower speed limits, or install automatic cameras. Set them just low enough to pay for all your favorite socialized government projects. And you can do it all in the name of safety.

Is this an appropriate way to set speed limits? Absolutely not. Speed limits should be set based on safety. Whenever income from a law is going to fund government programs, there is a dangerous conflict of interest for lawmakers to set laws based on revenue rather than public safety. Does this ever actually happen? "A 2006 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis ("Are traffic tickets countercyclical?") found that towns increased the number of tickets issued by an average of 0.4% for every 1% decline in other revenue."[1] How would I solve the problem? I would allow citizens who speed to pay their fine to a non-profit organization of their choice. Just send the city a copy of the receipt to verify the fine was paid. If we did this, I wager the speed limits around town might go up a little bit.

Does this same problem occur anywhere else? Yes, it happens in other circumstances as well. For instance, a public intoxication offense could be used to generate state funding. Some states give a portion of the money to the city and the rest to the state [2] Legislators can ask cops to wait outside the bars at 2 A.M. on Saturday nights and interrogate anybody who walks out. If they stutter, stumble, or swear than arrest them. Who cares if they are driving or not? Who cares if they weren't causing a public safety issue or not? Nobody besides the person getting arrested. Throw them in the cop car and generate some revenue.

Revenue generation is a dangerous conflict of interest for local governments. The more laws we have such as public intoxication or speed limits, the more opportunity there is for this type of abuse. Either get rid of the laws, or separate the funding from fine revenue from city and state governments.

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