Saturday, November 5, 2011

DC Council Members Propose Lowering Speed Limits to 15mph

DC Carpoolers May Soon Really be Slugging it to Work
Two DC council members have proposed legislation to lower speed limits on numerous residential streets in the District from 25mph to 15mph.  According to WTOP, Council Members Muriel Bowser and Tommy Wells say their proposal would make streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. "Dialing back our speed 10, even 15 miles per hour while we're on neighborhood streets, it literally adds up to second, maybe a minute or two," Miller says. "Isn't the safety of our children and our seniors and everybody worth a couple of minutes of driving safely?"

DC has one of the most extensive photo enforcement programs in the nation, bringing in $40.7million in speed camera revenue in FY2010.  Unlike Maryland, there are no specific restrictions on where cameras can be placed, and no specific 'threshhold' above the speed limit when tickets can be issued.  Were the proposal to go forwards, there would be no legal reason the District could not deploy speed cameras to ticket previously law-abiding drivers for traveling at breakneck speeds in the range of 16-20mph.

In addition, since driving even 1mph over the speed limit is a technical violation of the law, a driver recklessly traveling over 15mph could be legally be pulled over by police and ticketed.  Given that most cars can exceed 15mph without even touching the gas pedal, nearly every driver would end up exceeding 15mph at some point.  From a civil liberties perspective DC would be giving police probable cause to stop any driver at almost any time, charge them with a traffic violation, and thereby potentially subject their vehicles to a search as well.

The proposal is likely based on the common misconception that drivers always drive 5-10mph over the speed limit regardless of what it is set at.  However numerous studies have shown that this is not the case: the reality is that most drivers travel at what they believe is the safe speed for conditions, that lowering (or raising) speed limits has little overall effect on traffic accident rates, and that the primary affect in lowering speed limits is to reduce compliance and increase the public's contempt for the law (See studies listed on the NMA's website).  If DC has such contempt for their own residents that they wish to turn reasonable safe drivers into lawbreakers and encourage the belief that speed limits are unreasonable and not set by any rational standard, by all means set the speed limit to 15mph.