On Stoplights, Traffic Safety, and the Future

Clarksville TN has installed a system of cameras on their traffic lights. This machine vision system is wired into the computer system that has license plate numbers. It generates citations for running red traffic stoplights. In the first month they issued over 5,000 tickets to people that run red lights. This is a test bed. The tickets are a revenue generator. Currently they do not get reported to insurance companies or add points to your license, but that may change with the stroke a bureaucratic pen. This is not to argue that this system as currently designed is not without fault, but to propose that with proper Human Action it can be a benefit to many.

At approximately $100/ticket this is $500,000 per month or $6,000,000 per year. They already have plans to double the number of surveillance systems in place. Every other city in America will be envious and make this inevitable move. The cost/benefit ratio is compelling. As a Libertarian and proponent of Human Action I think this is a good idea. Driving is a privilege, not a right. Privileges must be earned and can be taken away.

Running red lights leads to a large number of fatalities per year. The driving privilege is a skill to be certified. I have 5 cars and 3 male drivers under the age of 25 on my insurance plan. I have to re-certify their college GPA’s once per year to keep the $150/month discount it provides. This is most definitely a form of free market driving certification. Most people that speed do it because of bad planning and then doing things like racing to appointments, work etc, and putting other drivers at risk.

It would also be a good idea to put up a system of monitors to catch and punish tailgaters which is one of the most dangerous of all driving behaviors and the least enforced. After this is put in place speed limits can eventually be raised for drivers that want to go faster, but cannot because of tailgaters and drivers that stay in the passing lane, another dangerous behavior.

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The expressway system can easily handle speeds of 80 to 90 mph if tailgating and exiting the passing lane after passing is enforced. This would give better throughput and lower insurance rates because of the drop in fatalities. Drivers will have to be certified for higher speeds as will their vehicles; just as pilots must be rated for flying conditions and type of aircraft. Naval all-weather nighttime carrier-qualified pilots are as different from single engine VFR pilots as riding a bicycle is from driving in the Daytona 500.

Eventually patterns will emerge and unsafe drivers will be identifiable by their behaviors and removed from the system until re-certification occurs. This will probably also take away the licenses of most drivers over the age of 70.

Law enforcement is a good idea for properly constructed laws. Cops should be punished if they are only writing speeding tickets, and not getting dangerous drivers from tailgating, and improper lane changes, that is a pattern that is tracked as well, but is difficult to enforce unless an incentive, both positive and negative is put into the enforcement system.

As fuel prices rise and smaller vehicles again become a popular market trend, regardless of the reason, the number of fatalities will inexorably rise as it did in the 80’s.

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The Federal Aviation Administration does not regulate speed, it regulates movement through altitude/direction regulations and separation of vehicles. All planes are tracked all the time by the FAA. The interstate system should be similarly configured, and almost certainly will be someday. The technology exists to drop the fatality rates. The number of fatalities per decade is still high enough to kill everyone in the state of North Dakota. More Americans were killed in traffic crashes in the 20th century than perished in combat by a factor of about 4. Astonishing! Yet this is a solvable problem. Do not call these accidents, because they are not. Accidental implies a random error, but these have been shown not to be random. Someone is always at fault. One third of these are alcohol-related, another easily solved problem.

I have been a safe driver for almost 40 years. I have driven about 500,000 miles. I have only been involved in three fender-benders accidents, all of which were due to failure to maintain safe distance. Two of the 3 were my fault. One was in the snow and the other in the rain and speed at impact was less than 20 miles per hour. I have not had a speeding ticket in more than 30 years because I do not speed. Speeding actually gets you to your destination slower if you are in or near a major city. Driving slightly under the speed limit is actually better. I have driven the exact same 20 mile stretch of interstate for so long that I recognize drivers, their cars and behaviors. I know every pothole and bump in the road. It can be shown using the method of characteristics and conservation of cars using first order partial differential equations that this is true. I empirically determined that if I dropped my speed from 70 to 65 that I made the distance in the same time, but dropped my fuel consumption by 10%. Drivers that raced by me at mile 65 were caught before my exit at mile 80. In college I drove the big rigs. It also served as an excellent pattern to observe driver behavior which empirically verified these assertions. Thirty years later I drove the big rig on weekends for the local high school band and found that these tailgating patterns still are highly visible.

I served as the foreman of the Grand Jury in Madison County in the Great State of Alabama in 1998. I saw first-hand the astonishing number of drunken-driving cases presented, probably 10% of the caseload. In the roughly 1000 cases we reviewed for prosecution there were multiple offenders with more than a dozen driving-under-the-influence (DUI) convictions. The "winner" with the most had 16 and was presented for number 17. Alabama at the time had no open container law preventing drinking and driving legally. They had passed a 4-strikes-you-are-out law meaning the fourth DUI got you a year in the Big House possibly working on the Athens Alabama Chain gang. To be consistent with Constitutional Law all previous offenses did not count in the tally.

How many billion dollars of lost productivity does this represent? How many skilled workers, loved ones, doctors, engineers, and artisans have we lost fecklessly? Human Action and the free market can easily knock these staggering statistics down by an order of magnitude in less than 25 years. An airline system that produced 25,000 fatalities a year would never be tolerated. This cruelty must come to an end. The revenue portion of this business proposition will be to compelling for every system of perpetually thirsty taxation machinery. It is up to those who understand freedom, property rights and defend liberty that this system, which will inevitably be put into place, be configured properly. It can be a cost-effective and self-financing technology that can save lives. It must be configured as a benefit for safe drivers and not just another etatist intrusion that degrades life in a myriad of ways.