No Fixed Abode: Three Reckless Ops A Day

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
no fixed abode three reckless ops a day

I remember the day I committed the minor misdemeanor offense of reckless operation as if it was yesterday, although it was actually one day longer ago than the statute of limitations regarding minor misdemeanors in Ohio. I was surrounded by my accomplices — my “gang” if you will — and we were hell-bent on committing some serious traffic offenses.

The situation was this: We were all driving through Cincinnati, Ohio, at approximately 65 miles per hour. This is the speed limit for Route 71 on the north side of Cincinnati. Approximately five miles south of I-275, the speed limit on 71 drops from 65 to 45. There’s no visible logic or reasoning behind this; I-71 is still a five-or-six-lane road at this point. There are certainly times when the road is brought to a standstill by traffic, but the same is true of I-71 between Columbus and Delaware, Ohio, which has a marked limit of 70 mph.

As I passed the speed limit sign together with my gang of approximately 20 visible vehicles — most of which were doing about 70-75 mph but a few of which were going slower or faster than that — not a single driver touched his or her brakes. In the space of a few moments, we had gone from being legal or semi-legal road users to serious violators of the Ohio Revised Code. Had there been a sufficient police presence in the area, every one of us could have been sentenced to 60 days in jail and been subject to impounding of our vehicles.

This is clearly ridiculous, so it’s time to ask the question that is always relevant in situations like this: Cui bono?

Just in case you skipped high school Latin, college lit, and post-grad Internet arguing, Cui bono is Latin for “Who benefits?” Most laws exist for a reason, after all. There are no laws against turning into a winged goat during Federal holidays because nobody’s ever documented an occurrence of that, but there are plenty of laws prohibiting theft in all of its various forms because people have been stealing from each other since the dawn of time.

The benefit to society of a law against theft (or murder, or any of that other Ten Commandments stuff) is plainly obvious. The benefit to society of a law against reckless operation of a vehicle is nearly as obvious; just take a drive on a Detroit-area freeway some time if you want to get a sense of what life would be like in a world where the vast majority of motorists feel entirely free to do whatever the fuck they want. The difficulty arises when you are trying to precisely define the meaning of “theft” or “reckless operation.” Are the exorbitant rates charged by check-cashing operations “theft”? If so, where do you draw the line on interest? If you draw it in one place, the stores disappear (not a bad thing, IMO). If you draw the line another place, you get Scott Tucker. But no matter where you draw it, somebody out there will benefit more than others will.

The same is true for reckless operation, which is the biggest stick most traffic cops can use against dangerous drivers. The person who is doing 150 mph in a school zone? Clearly a reckless operator. But what about the person who is doing 21-in-a-20 across that same school zone? Virtually nobody would consider that person a reckless operator. But you have to draw the line somewhere. So, again — Cui bono?

The 45 mph limit on Cincinnati freeways is, to put it plainly, an utter joke. It’s a law flouted hundreds of thousands of times every week. Never in my adult life have I seen a car doing 45 mph on a Cincinnati freeway. Not once. There is no reasonable logic behind the limit. It doesn’t make people safer; all it does is increase closing speeds between people who are trying to stay close to the law and people who are trying to get to work on time. Closing speeds are dangerous; this is not disputed anywhere in the law enforcement or traffic safety communities. Yet the limit remains at 45. Cui bono?

If the above situation sounds oddly familiar to you, perhaps it’s because you live in Northern Virginia. That’s another place where speed limits on freeways have been artificially lowered for no apparent purpose, and it’s another place where those limits are universally ignored. I’ve never seen any private vehicle doing the speed limit on 495. Not unless they are slowing to a stop for traffic ahead. What’s the point of setting the speed limit so low that everybody who uses the road is breaking the law? Cui bono?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the book “Three Felonies A Day”, written by civil-rights attorney Harvey Silverglate. In the book, Silverglate argues that the law has become so complex, particularly as regards technology and chain-of-custody issues, that it is almost impossible to get through your day without committing a felony of some type. Not everybody agrees with the specific examples and assertions made in the book, but I think it’s fair to say that most of us have unknowingly done something that would be punished much more severely than you would expect. That goes double for people who work in tech. I’ve seen people violate multiple federal privacy laws, totaling dozens of years’ worth of prison time, in a single email. And don’t get me started on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its repugnant, pernicious effects on ordinary human beings.

The DMCA is one of the worst bits of law ever written onto the books. Yet it made it there because it served the purposes of some very powerful, very wealthy people. The answer to Cui bono? in that case is dead simple — the content-generation and computing industries benefit, at the expense of regular citizens who just want to do crazy stuff like use their old software on their new computer.

Outrageously low speed limits do not protect the freeway motorists of Cincinnati or Northern Virginia. In fact, you can argue that they increase the risk of driving on those freeways. So Cui bono? I think you know. Changing the limit from 65 to 45 on Route 71 benefits law enforcement. It creates the following benefits:

  • It turns a normal flow of freeway traffic into a river of cash into which the police can dip at will. Want to write ten tickets a day? A hundred? A thousand? It’s all possible.
  • It increases the cash value of those tickets for both insurance companies and municipalities while simultaneously making it harder to fight those tickets.
  • It allows profiling.

I highlighted the last one because I think it’s the most important. All across this country, we are having a dialogue about whether police officers single-out minorities and/or women for law enforcement. The common refrain heard after these incidents, “He didn’t do nothing!” has become such a common refrain that it’s now actively parodied on the Internet. Yet the fact is many of these controversial traffic stops have, in fact, started with a clear violation of the law.

When the speed limit is set at a reasonable level, then the police are only free to stop and ticket people who are breaking the law. But when the speed limit is set unreasonably low, then the police can stop anybody they want. You’re all guilty. If you commuted to work in downtown Cincinnati yesterday, and you didn’t jam your brake at the 45 sign, you’re now a criminal. You have very few rights. You can be the subject of a traffic stop that could escalate into imprisonment, poverty, or even death.

You don’t have to be a supporter of various special-interest groups like the National Motorists Association or to see that arbitrary policing is always dangerous. It opens the door for abuses of power both minor and major. It’s bad news whether you’re black or white. And it needs to be curbed wherever it occurs. That starts with reasonable speed limits. Without them, we are all reckless in the eyes of the law. Trust me, that’s not a place you want to be.

[Image: OSHP]

Join the conversation
3 of 143 comments
  • Jeff Zekas Jeff Zekas on Jan 08, 2017

    This reminds me of back when Reagan was governor. CHP stopped his limo for speeding. "I'm the governor!". Ticket issued. Later, the officer was reprimanded and the ticket dismissed. Qui bono? Always the One Percent benefits. The working class are the chumps. And the poor ride buses.

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Jan 23, 2017

    I have the same two thoughts every time this comes up: 1. The fact that in many cases a speed limit is set artificially and/or arbitrarily low in term masks the places where a lower limit is actually justified. If the speed limit dropped when it was necessary, it would do a lot to actually highlight suboptimal stretches of highway. 2. In general, this kind of thing corrodes faith in our institutions and the Rule of Law. If you think speed limits are BS, it's way easier to self-justify many other behaviors, especially of the abstract kind (eg Napster, Bittorrent, ringing up all your bell peppers as green at the self-checkout at the grocery store...)

    • JimC2 JimC2 on Jan 23, 2017

      "In general, this kind of thing corrodes faith in our institutions and the Rule of Law." Yep. I'd have a lot more faith if I even once saw a cop pull out of a radar trap to give just a verbal warning to: - Someone driving at night with no lights (or their DRL only) - Someone driving in traffic with their high beams on - Someone driving slow in the left lane etc. Once! I just want to see this happen once!

  • Vulpine Regretfully, rather boring. Nothing truly unique, though the M715 is a real eye-grabber.
  • Parkave231 This counts for the Rare Rides installment on the Fox Cougar and Fox Thunderbird too, right? Don't want to ever have to revisit those......(They should have just called them Monarch/Marquis and Granada/LTD II and everything would have been fine.)
  • DM335 The 1983 Thunderbird and Cougar were introduced later than the rest of the 1983 models. If I recall correctly, the first models arrived in January or February 1983. I'm not sure when they were unveiled, but that would explain why the full-line brochures for Ford and Mercury were missing the Thunderbird and Cougar--at least the first version printed.The 1980 Cougar XR-7 had the same 108.4 inch wheelbase as the 1980 Thunderbird. The Cougar coupe, sedan and wagon had the shorter wheelbase, as did the Ford Granada.
  • Ehaase 1980-1982 Cougar XR-7 shared its wheelbase and body with the Thunderbird. I think the Cougar name was used for the 1977 and 1981 sedans, regular coupe and wagons (1977 and 1982 only) in an effort to replicate Oldsmobile's success using the Cutlass name on all its intermediates, although I wonder why Ford bothered, as the Granada/Cougar were replaced by the Fox LTD/Marquis in 1983.
  • Ken Accomando The Mark VIII was actually designed before the aero Bird, but FMC was nervous about the huge change in design, so it followed the Thunderbird a year. Remember, at this time, the 1983 Thunderbird was the first new aero Ford, with the Tempo soon following. It seems so obvious now but Ford was concerned if their buyers would accept the new aero look! To get the Lincoln buyers warmed up, they also debuted for the 1982 auto show season the Lincoln Concept 90…which really previewed the new Mark VII. Also, the new 1983 Thunderbird and Cougar debuted a little late, in Nov 1982, so perhaps that’s why they were left out of the full line brochures.