Secret laws suck

The new CHP cars

The new CHP cars

I got a speeding ticket Saturday, driving down I5, heading to Fresno.

Motoring smoothly at 83 MPH, fast lane, cruise control set, I saw the CHP cruiser on the other side of the freeway hit his lights and power into a U-turn across the median. Knowing I was cooked, I just pulled over and waited for the inevitable.

I’ve been up and down that road dozens of times, and every single one I get upset that the speed  limit is a secret. Yes, I know that the signs say “70 mph”, but I also know that nobody ever, ever, ever got cited for going 72.  Or 75.  Or 77.  Until Saturday, I would have said that the real, true, enforced speed limit was 85, and I still think thats’ generally true.

It infuriates me that nobody will admit what we all know–there is a speed limit somewhere, but it’s a secret and the police can change it anytime if they are behind on their “performance review standards” (because ticket writing quotas are illegal, but under another name……………)

If you tried to drive 70 in the fast lane the fuzz would cite you for driving too slowly.   I’d love to take 2 cars, drive the speed limit next to each other and see how long it took to get pulled over and chewed out for blocking traffic.

Ask the cops what the limti is, and you’ll be told in their most serious and stentorian tones “The speed limit is 70 mies per hour, strictly enforced at all times”.  That’s a damned lie, and if they had any self respect they would be ashamed of themseves.  Sadly, self-respect is surgically removed at the police academy.

This is just a game.  Speeding tickets are a random tax; drive long enough and you’ll have to pay.  We are subject to a law that is enforced capriciously and idiosyncratically, as dependent on the cops moods as on our driving.  I’ve driven as fast a 110 on that road without issue, and had people pass me while I was doing it.  Interstate 5 was designed for a posted speed limit of 80, which means people would drive 90 regularly, but now the police and courts will self-righteously claim it is “unsafe” to exceed 70.  Of course, the insurance companies love this as they raise the rates of the poor schlubs who get nabbed in the scam that is traffic enforcement.

And that leads me to the second part of the problem–the essential unfairness of our judicial system.  I’m cranky about that ticket, but it doesn’t much matter.  I’ll pay the fine, pay the fees to take traffic school, pay the school, take the course online and be done with it. If I was a guy who worked at Burger King, this would be a catastrophe–the fine could be a weeks pay, I might not own a computer or know how to take traffic school online and would be out a full day to take the live course.  One speeding ticket could make the difference between paying the rent and being homeless, and that ‘s a high price to pay for an unpredictiable system that can strike without warning.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that we could have realistic speed limits, like 80 or 85 on the interstates, clearly and strictly enforced.  That would require realism from the politicians as well as honesty and openness from the police, though, so I suppose it’s just a pipe dream


7 thoughts on “Secret laws suck

  1. Consult your local expert on “fighting speeding tickets”, Also, I got a request from Fast, Cheap and Easy Traffic School, online, to recommend to my friends.
    So I will dig out for you. Amusing exercise. First, appeal it, deny it, and then ——-I have the list of tips for traversing CA at 90.

    • I don’t think I’d fit in real well in Texas. And I doubt that their laws are any more clear, and fairly imposed, than ours. And their governor likes to execute innocent people to appease the rednecks.

  2. They’re going to get you coming or going. I’m waiting to get a traffic obstruction ticket for doing only 25 in a school zone; it’s possible. That would be fun to fight in court. Do you remember the CHP doing 55 in the left lane, backing up traffic for miles or waiting at the bottom of a hill to hand out tickets when the limit was 55? But seriously, the CHP has a nightmare job. California hands out drivers licenses like candy; no drivers education required if 18 or older; just take a test that a 5th grader can ace and drive around the block without hitting anything, oh, and pay $33.

  3. Chris,

    Perhaps you are a new driver. Let me explain something to you. It can be difficult to know exactly how much a driver is going over the speed limit. If the police gave tickets for going 2 miles over the limit, there would be countless drivers fighting it who thought they were not over the limit at all, or who really were misclocked, or who thought minor excesses should not be enforced. The costs in enforcement to the state, and to the drivers, would be excessive for the sin. But if they told you, “we won’t give you a ticket unless you go over 80 in the 70 zone,” then there would be a mess of drivers doing 82 who thought they were doing 80, or who really were doing 80 and were misclocked by the police. Again, big unnecessary enforcement problems on both sides.

    This does not mean they think it is OK to go 75, or even 72, in a 70 zone on a freeway, but they can’t practically do anything about it. I think everyone but you has learned this. I have had 6 speeding tickets in my life (about one a decade) for going between 11 and 15 miles over the limit. I have never ever had a speeding ticket for going 1-10 miles over the limit. It is interesting to me that you seem to have had good fortune going 13 or 15 miles over the limit, but it is very unsurprising to me that you got a ticket. I have not noticed great variation in enforcement standards. Occasionally real speed limits are “hidden,” and I have had two such tickets, but that is not the norm.

    There is another important factor here. Safety is more important to the police than speeding. The police want you to drive the speed of the traffic, even if it is faster than the speed limit. But what determines the speed of the traffic? Each driver sets an example for other drivers. Some drivers are keeping up to the speed of traffic, and some are pushing it up slightly. Many of us have a tendency to want to push the envelope slightly, being one of the faster among relatively equal speeders. After all, that’s only slightly faster than the speed of the traffic. But such faster drivers make other drivers feel like they can speed up. The police don’t want you to be one of the drivers edging the “speed of traffic” up. If the limit is 70 and the traffic is going 80-83, and you are one of the 83 drivers, you may well get a ticket. You are a force making the speed of traffic higher than the police want it to be.

    So, when you are going 83, be alert to the speed of traffic in the fast lane, don’t be the fastest, or nearly the fastest, in the fast lane, and don’t do a lot of lane shifting in order to maintain your 83. Unless you don’t mind tickets.

    Didn’t you really know this?


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