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6 Dumb Traffic Laws That Should Be Repealed

Posted on November 14th, 2008 in , , , , | 65 Comments

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Just because it’s “the law” doesn’t mean it’s right — or even sensible — when it comes to traffic law, anyhow.

While we may have no choice but to obey — or risk a ticket — that doesn’t make bad traffic laws any more worthy of our respect than the Prohibition ban on alcohol.

Here are a few current laws that ought to be on the other end of a piece of payin’ paper for a change:

1) No Right On Red
This is a form of idiot-proofing designed to protect over-cautious, under-skilled drivers with poor vision and a weak sense of spatial relationships — the kind who need both lanes to be totally clear for at least a football field’s length before they feel confident enough to make the turn. Since they can’t safely judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic, we get to wait at the light like morons, too — even if there isn’t another car in sight.

Everyone else gets to stack up behind the piece of arteriosclerotic traffic plaque clogging up the road, awaiting the fleeting green light that’s also timed to coincide with pedestrian right-of-way on the opposing cross street – thus assuring only a handful of cars get through before it goes red again.

Instead of dumbing-down the roads to accommodate dumbed-down, least-common-denominator drivers, why not encourage (even demand) better driving? Those lacking the skills to perform basic maneuvers such as safely pulling into an intersection without the aid of a green light ought to be taking the bus.

2) Midnight Red
It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and you come to a red light that stays red for an eternity. You sit and sit and sit — engine idling, gas and time wasting — even though there isn’t another car around for miles. Sometimes, the light even cycles without giving you the green. (A common problem for motorcycle riders.) Of course, if you become exasperated and run the light — even after stopping completely to make sure it’s safe and the way is absolutely clear — it’s almost guaranteed there will be a cop lurking nearby, burning the midnight oil just for you.

In Europe, where sensible traffic laws are more the rule than here, many signaled intersections switch over to flashing yellow — “proceed with caution” — after a certain hour, when traffic has died down to a trickle. It is assumed that drivers are competent enough to make a judgment call on their own — and it seems to work perfectly well. It’s a custom we should definitely import.

3) No Left At Light
Cousin to the no-right-on-red rule, this is the one where you find yourself at an intersection wanting to make a left turn across an opposing lane of traffic onto a sidestreet. But instead of a “yield to oncoming traffic” green light – sensible policy – you’re stuck with a red light made just for you – on the assumption you’ve got inch-thick cataracts and the ability to judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic of Mr. Magoo. You’re supposed to wait patiently for the green arrow — even when there’s no oncoming traffic at all and you could literally get out and push the car safely across the intersection. Like no right on red, it’s a well-intended law designed to protect the worst drivers out there from their own marginal skills and poor judgment — at the expense of everyone else.

4) Under-posted Speed Limits
Speed limits are not supposed to be random numbers picked at whim by a government bureaucrat — or revenue-minded police chief. They’re supposed to be done according to traffic surveys that indicate an appropriate speed that balances safety with the goal of smoothly flowing traffic traveling at a reasonable pace for a given stretch of road. (The formal traffic safety engineering term for this is the “85th percentile speed.”) Yet most posted speed limits are set well below the 85th percentile speed — typically at least 5-10 mph below it.

This turns almost every driver on the road into a “speeder” — in the legalistic/technical sense of driving faster than the number on the sign. It usually has nothing to do with safe driving, however. Things are set up this way to give police an easy reason to pull over just about anyone at just about any time — and to generate lots of tax revenue by proxy.

We’ve all encountered what amount to obvious speed traps — the classic example being a broad, two-laned divided road posted at a ridiculous 30 or 35-mph instead of the 45-50 mph everyone’s driving. Since most of us routinely drive faster than posted maximums, we’re all either reckless fools — or the speed limits  have been set absurdly low for the road. Common sense says it’s the latter; any law that is flouted by almost everyone is probably a bad law — like Prohibition.

Roads with under-posted speed limits are designed to be “revenue enhancers” for the local constabulary. But this sort of thing only creates antagonisms between the otherwise law-abiding public and the police — whose motto should be “To Serve and Protect,” not “To Harrass and Collect.” Genuinely dangerous drivers should be aggressively targeted; but using the law to extract the “motorists’ tax” from unwary drivers over trumped-up BS “speeding” charges is an altogether different matter.

5) Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Laws
This is the name given to laws that give police the authority to pull a motorist over simply for not wearing a seat belt. The question, though, isn’t whether it’s prudent to buckle-up — of course it is. Rather, it’s whether failing to wear a seat belt ought to qualify as a “moving violation” — and give police pretext to pull over an otherwise law-abiding motorist.

Not wearing a seat belt may increase your risk of injury or death if there is an accident. But is that anyone’s business but yours? Not wearing a seat belt has about as much effect on others as failing to eat right or exercise. It increases your personal risk, perhaps — but it’s really no one’s business but your own. What’s next — random blood pressure and cholesterol checkpoints? Are they going to begin issuing cops calipers to measure our body fat ratio?

Turning on the flashing lights and pointing Glocks our way for this “violation” is completely over the top — and ought to stop.

6) Sobriety Checkpoints
In the name of law and order, we’ve come to accept the idea of being randomly stopped, questioned and made to produce ID — rigmarole that would be familiar to a citizen of Berlin in 1940 or Moscow in 1970. “Your papers, please!” is not what America is supposed to be all about. The goal of getting drunks of the road is beside the point. Probable cause is — or ought to be — the point.

It’s wrong to subject people who have done absolutely nothing to suggest they’ve been drinking and driving to random stops and interrogations. It violates one of the most basic tenets of the Western European legal theory going back to Magna Carta. Until you, specifically, have given the authorities a specific reason to suspect that you have violated (or may be about to violate) a law, the authorities should have no authority to interfere with you in any way. That we have lost sight of this basic, once-cherished principle and are so willing to  give it up in the name of “safety” or “getting drunks off the road” shows we’re very far down a Dark Road, indeed.

By all means, stop and check out any driver who appears to be weaving, driving erratically or otherwise giving good reason to suspect he may be liquored up. But leave the rest of us alone and free to go about our business until we’ve given good reason to warrant a closer look.


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65 Responses to “6 Dumb Traffic Laws That Should Be Repealed”

  1. Mr Truth says:

    Amazing Mark you have remained calm while these right taking liberals harras you and try to sound smarter then they are! :o

    If these police officers were always right we really wouldn’t need lawyers and judges and we would just have the Officer make the final judgment right there at the booking office. :P

    I like your quotes on *The Right to Travel* and your point on the summery of the first DUI being an execution however I have more to add.

    It should only be an execution if the Drunk Driver actually KILLED someone not IF they will kill someone but here in America it’s all about rather IF they will kill someone rather then actually commiting the crime.

    So much for innocent until PROVEN guilty. :P


    Even if we DIDN’T have drivers licenses there can still be LAWS that state people can be arrested if they do obvious things such as injuring property and/or people and also killing someone.

    When you are out of jail you have paid your respects to society and people need ot put the past behind them or it’s beating a dead horse.

    Horse: I’mmmm deeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaad. Sssssssssssssto beating me! OWWWWWWWWW!!

    Umm why did that horse come in here anways?

  2. Mr Truth says:

    It sucks that the traffic laws are all emotional instead of logical by trying to prevent someone from being killed instead of just letting the drunk driver learn the hard way and except the full penalty of killing someone.

    Some people that is the best way to learn.

    We need lighter sentences if it's just *you* that's involved for Drunk Driving and *Capital Punishment* if you actually do KILL someone with DUI on *anything* and this includes prescription drugs too………………….

    Same goes for drugged driving where it's light sentences if it's just you involved and Capitol Punishment if there is death involved in the offense.

  3. Drake says:

    The problem is that the drug dog hit on your vehicle. Once that happens, no permission needed. It is called Probable Cause. The dog is trained to find drugs. It indicated there were drugs inside of your vehicle. Good luck in court arguing it does not seem right to you.

  4. Phil Mckrackin says:

    Roadblocks as tools to identify drunk drivers are constitutional. If you weren’t arrested for DUI you did not blow into a breathalyzer. You may have been asked to blow into a breath screening device which indicated a positive for alcohol but not an arrestable level so you were allowed to park your vehicle and leave. That they called you back and seems odd to me. A miniscule possession that results in a Felony charge, which is what is needed to effect your right to vote? Did the police ask you if they could search your vehicle? If they didn’t ask you or have you sign a search waiver you may get the search of your vehicle and all the evidence obtained there from thrown out. However, If your passage wasn’t presented as it happened you may very well be screwed. Were you high while driving? were you arrested for anything other than the possession?

    • Phil Mckrackin says:

      at the point you admitted that you had some "bud" you gave them probable cause to search your truck wherever a "small bud" could be hidden without having your permission. That the officers did field sobriety tests on you which you apparently failed but passed a subsequent breath sceening device is why they asked you if you had any "bud" and they asked in an attempt to discover why you failed the sobriety tests even though your BAC had a very low or non existent value. In answer to your question "Does this seem right?" an overwhelming YES, YES, YES!

  5. Phil Mckrackin says:

    David writes(Warson Woods Missouri has been ticketing motorists according to paragraph number 4 (under posted speed limits) for years. I tried to get the word out on the speedtrap exchange but the information was removed after a few weeks. Warson Woods Missouri is ticketing at will anyone not dropping to 15 mph in a school zone when the posted speed limit is 30 mph. I feel this is a rip off of the motoring public because the Missouri Department of Transportation clearly says no school zones under 25 mph. I can ride my bicycle at 18 mph. In theory I could receive a ticket for over $200 in a Warson Woods Missouri school zone on my bicycle!!!. I would like to see if Warson Woods could afford to return all of the money collected from their 15 mph school zone.)

    If there is a law that states you must do no more than 15mph in school zones then even if the roadway is posted at 30mph you should be ticketed for doing anything more than 15mph.

    • Dave says:

      Phil’s remark does not relate to what was said. The Missouri Department of Transportation clearly states in its policy guide and I quote “903.16.6 School Speed Limits. Upon receipt of a school speed limit request, the district shall perform a speed study and site investigation. The school speed limit shall be 10 mph below either the posted speed limit or the 85th percentile speed, whichever is higher, as determined by the speed study. In no case will a school speed limit of less than 25 mph be allowed.” That’s what the Government guide says Phil. Warson Woods Missouri has a school speed zone of 15 mph which is much less than 25mph.

  6. David says:

    Warson Woods Missouri has been ticketing motorists according to paragraph number 4 (under posted speed limits) for years. I tried to get the word out on the speedtrap exchange but the information was removed after a few weeks. Warson Woods Missouri is ticketing at will anyone not dropping to 15 mph in a school zone when the posted speed limit is 30 mph. I feel this is a rip off of the motoring public because the Missouri Department of Transportation clearly says no school zones under 25 mph. I can ride my bicycle at 18 mph. In theory I could receive a ticket for over $200 in a Warson Woods Missouri school zone on my bicycle!!!. I would like to see if Warson Woods could afford to return all of the money collected from their 15 mph school zone.

  7. James Young says:

    po po writes: {[Driving] is a privilege because it is not a right afforded to us by the federal constitution or any state constitution that I’m aware of. It has not been made a right by any legislature or been interpreted as such by any judicial body.}

    Neither legislatures nor judges can create “rights,” which exist simply by stint of our humanity. OTOH, the US Supreme Court decided that holding a driver’s license (and utilizing it to operate a vehicle on a highway) was an entitlement, a combination of right and privilege. Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535 (1971).

    A privilege can be rescinded by its grantor at will and for any reason. A right cannot be rescinded except by operation of due process. Thus, a person who has demonstrated the requisite skills to operate a motor vehicle must receive certification of that, i.e., a driver’s license. Further, a state DMV who wishes to revoke that license may not do so until they have fulfilled the due process outlined for such revocation. In harsher terms, they cannot just take it away willy-nilly.

  8. Mike says:

    Con-des-cending… that’s a BIG word for you, isn’t it? Congratulations on trying to paraphrase my statements. I didn’t say “working with the local police department,” I said MANY police departments, as in a professional capacity. I taught upclose hand-to-hand combat within a couple feet as that’s where the worst conflicts usually occur.

    Candidate for Mensa? With a measured IQ of 146, Mensa has been suggested to me a few times. Which brings us to the crux of your argument, constitutional law. It’s funny that I was agreeing with you about driving being a privilege, but I should have realized that you’d need to argue with someone even if they agreed with you, say, about the REASON it’s a privilege. Fine, since you’re determined to argue, let’s do it. Driving is NOT a privilege; it is a Right. That right has been upheld in a variety of judicial decisions. While a right can be regulated for the benefit of society, it cannot be denied without due process, equally provided for as demanded by the 14th Amendment.

    “The right of the citizen to travel upon public highways and to transport his/her property thereon, either by carriage or automobile, is not a mere privilege which a City/State may prohibit at will, but a common right which he/she has under the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” ~ Thompson v. Smith

    “The use of the highway for the purpose of travel and transportation is not a mere privilege, but a common and fundamental right which the public and individuals cannot be rightfully deprived.” ~ Chicago Motor Coach v. Chicago

    “The right to travel is part of the Liberty of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment.” ~ Kent v. Dulles

    “The claim and exercise of a Constitutional right cannot be converted into a crime.” ~ Miller v. U.S.

    Please don’t portend to speak of constitutional law as a learned expert. You’re only parroting departmental literature. I’m weary of police who claim to understand the law better than the lawyers because, after all, it’s the police who must enforce it. If that were true, there would be no need of lawyers nor courts, as the police could not possibly be mistaken.

  9. Mia says:

    I’m alarmed by the comment from po po, which asserts that driving is not a right because it is not granted by a constitution. That is a massive misinterpretation of what rights are and of the United States Constitution. In America it is assumed that rights are endowed to individuals by a creator, not by any government or law. The Bill of Rights merely lists several important ones that the government is reminded not to forget. The ninth and tenth amendments explicitly spell this out for the benefit of overzealous public servants who wish to deny the people rights that are not listed. Personally, I’m disgusted by po po’s interpretation of the Constitution; and if he really is an LEO, I’m underwhelmed by his legal education.

  10. po po says:

    Yes, Mike, number 6 was regarding check points, however, the comments here seemed to evolve into a situation other than a check point. If I misunderstood anyone’s comments I offer my apology.

    Congratulations on parenthood, “working with” your local law enforcement, your former security clearance, et. al. None of which have seemed to further your understanding of constitutional law. Driving is not a privilege because the government funds the roadways. It is a privilege because it is not a right afforded to us by the federal constitution or any state constitution that I’m aware of. It has not been made a right by any legislature or been interpreted as such by any judicial body.

    You can call me names and be as condescending as you like (“badge-heavy paternalistic apologists” “swaggering tinhorn Barny Fifes with an authority complex”)but that doesn’t make you right, reasonable, or a candidate for Mensa.

    Finally, I do not view constitutional rights as an obstruction to my job. In fact, I take great pride in protecting those rights for all citizens, even those who seek to to infringe on the rights of society.

    I’m done here. Safe motoring…

  11. Jeff says:

    Check point stops are illegal in Wisconsin and Michigan, and many other states.

  12. Mike says:

    Popo, after 40 years of raising 4 kids to adulthood, of working with many police departments, of working with many foreign governments, holding a federal security clearance, and no traffic citations in nearly 20 years…

    I am ever so grateful for your paternalistic advice to educate me in staying out of trouble in your neck of the woods. In the meantime, I hope to avoid checkpoints in Maryland where I apparently must submit proof of my innocence while presumed guilty. And, yes, the topic was sobriety checkpoints, whether or not you can read.

  13. po po says:

    Mike, clearly you can’t read.

    1. No one said anything about a check point stop. Check point stops are permitted, however, there must be an alternate route for a driver to take after seeing notification of the check point. That was not the scenario I offered.

    2. I said .08 was the presumptive level of impairment here. Below .08, .015 as you say, there MUST be other factors to give an officer probable cause to charge and get a conviction for DWI. That’s the way it is here in MD.

    3. Traffic citations here are essentially an arrest without the processing associated with a physical arrest most people think of. You sign the ticket indicating you will abide by the requirement set forth in the citation – specifically pay the pre-pay fine on the ticket or show up for court. You are released on your signature, your promise, to satisfy those requirements. Failing to sign may lead to that consideration not being extended to you. The officer has to have proof of your identity and a reasonable belief you will pay or show up for court. It’s as simple as that.

    In the example YOU provided of not rolling down your window on a stop, you’re going to jail. Why? You can’t provide your license through a closed window so I do not have satisfactory proof of your identity. Next, you can’t sign a ticket through glass so I can not reasonably believe you will comply with the requirements of the citation.

    It’s not about prohibition – I can get my drink on with the best of them. BUT I am smart enough not to drive after drinking AS ALL. The bottom line is everyone needs to be responsible for their choices and actions. Your example of a BAC .015 would have little to no impairing effect on a 200 pound 30 year old drinker. That same .015 in a 95 pound 19 y/o female rookie drinker may very well cause impairment.

    Be smart – be safe this holiday. Don’t drink (at all) and drive. If stopped by the police for any reason don’t be an idiot and think if you ignore the officer we will be forced to go away. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

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