Saturday, July 21, 2007

Karl gets a speeding ticket

I like Karl Brauer, the Editor-in-Chief of the popular website. However, the other day he was grousing on his blog about a speeding ticket he received on his daily 50-mile commute from Ventura County to the Edmunds' offices in Santa Monica, California, next to Los Angeles. He was traveling in a new Mini Cooper S test car and had been stopped for going 72 mph in a 55 mph zone. He took some photos of the road after his stop, and they didn't look too different from my photo of US 6 in the east central part of the state near Bishop, close to the Nevada line. US 6, however, has 65 mph speed limit.

As Karl put it, "... it's been about 2.5 years since my last ticket, so I was due. Considering I drive approximately 30,000 miles a year (much of it on cop-addled Pacific Coast Highway) I don't feel a smidge of guilt at that rate of citation collection. And like nearly every speeding ticket I've ever received, this one had nothing to do with public safety. How do I know? Because...where I got the ticket -- a deserted stretch of road through flat, deserted farmland where you can see forever and there are no cross streets for a good 10 miles. The speed limit is 55, but Officer Williams says I was doing...(dramatic pause)...72.

"I didn't intend to do 72, but I was playing with the radio in our new Mini Cooper S, and the turbo engine (especially if you've hit the "Sport" button) has a habit of creeping up in rpm if you don't watch the speedo. I'm sure that in another 10 seconds or less I'd have scanned the gauges, seen my speed and eased back on the throttle. This is assuming that it was really me doing 72 mph. There were three cars in front of me, but when I pointed this out to the officer he insisted his radar could ferret out my speed from the others'.

"...Let me just clearly state that, in my opinion, 72 mph on that road, under those conditions, is still not unsafe in any way, shape or form. And if you think it is, then, also in my opinion, you're an idiot. The careless part was not using my radar detector to avoid a purely revenue-oriented speed trap.

"As I've said many times before, the concept of citing people for bad/dangerous driving doesn't bother me, but the concept of citing people for revenue generation does. The reason police patrol these areas isn't for public safety but because they know speeding is still a possibility. In much of Southern California speeding isn't a problem because traffic makes it a non-issue. But on certain stretches of PCH, as well as much of Ventura County, people still have the potential to speed. Of course, this is where speeding is least likely to actually cause a problem...but that's beside the point...right?"

Ironically, I was speaking with a co-worker the same day Karl posted the above rant. The co-worker had recently lost her 95-year-old dad. She mentioned he always rued the one day in his long life that he was ticketed for speeding -- 2 or 3 mph over the posted 35 mph in a small town in his native Virginia on a Sunday morning. Now THAT's patently unfair! Car speedometers even today, let alone years ago, were not that accurate.

But 72 mph in a 55 mph zone on a 2-lane road? Inexcusable. In Virginia, where I now live, the maximum speed limit on ANY 2-lane road is 55 mph, due to topography, population density, and a lack of those nice paved shoulders on most such roads. And radar detectors are illegal. So if you get stopped for speeding, and the cop sees your radar detector, you get busted with another fine.

Even in the tiniest VA towns, the speed limit often drops to 25 mph, yet within the Los Angeles city limits when I was there in December 2005, most speed limits seem to be 35 mph. On that trip, my wife and I flew out to meet our son and drove back east across the country. California allows 65 mph on US 395 (almost all 2-lane) once you leave the L.A. megalopolis, with only a few slowdowns through the infrequent small towns.

We went north past Lone Pine to Bishop, and then headed northeast on US 6 to the Nevada border. The road again was 2-lane with a 65 mph limit. In Nevada, the limit went up to 70. But one big difference is that the road is nearly deserted in parts of Nevada. There was one approximate 150-mile stretch east of Tonopah (beyond the split with US 95) where we encountered only THREE oncoming vehicles, NONE going in our direction, and none entering from mainly unpaved side roads!

I haven't been in Ventura County north of L.A., but from Karl's frequent description of road conditions, there's a lot of commuter traffic, much busier than US 395 or 6, and therefore evidently has lower speed limits on its 2-lane roads for safety reasons. So his photo may haven been a tad misleading. There's only a thin yellow line separating you from oncoming disaster. It's a lot easier to handle an emergency at 55 than at 72 mph, and the odds are stacked against you in a Mini if you were hit by oncoming traffic. This isn't like south central Nevada where you really do have the road to yourself!

Karl brings up a point so often raised by enthusiasts. They claim speeding tickets are revenue generators, but police pay no attention to true examples of "bad/dangerous" driving, such as tailgating, weaving through traffic without signaling, and (the horror!) "camping" in the far left lane of multi-lane highways, blocking speeders' progress. As I have said much earlier on this blog, the go-fast crowd has pretty much convinced themselves that speeding, in and of itself, is harmless, and police should be concentrating their efforts on all these other lawbreakers! The irony is that the blatant speeders, who insist radar detectors are needed for their adventures, are in my experience also the ones who commit these other "bad" behaviors: tailgating, weaving, improper passing, and not giving slower drivers who happen to be in the left lane adequate time to move over to the right!

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