3.13.2007

The Wild West

New street-side accoutrements are popping up in my adjoining neighborhoods, and I’m certain I’m witnessing the birth of a cultural revolution. I’ll call it ‘Governance by Guilt.’ Children raised in certain households will recognize the method.

Our cars are outfitted with accurate, visibly placed speedometers, yet on my daily commute I now am greeted by large monitors that display the speed of approaching cars on a screen directly below the speed limit. Most of us knowingly speed, so confronting us with our transgression is hardly illuminating. On the other hand, the public shaming aspect of this tactic is highly effective. I can’t help myself. As I see the device looming in the distance, I slow down, an involuntary reaction to ward off criticism.

Those monitoring our streets are onto something. We will start driving slower, at least when facing these signs. We may not actually ever drop so low as to hit the speed limit, but each one of us will determine our own acceptable level of disobedience and tack that number onto the legal maximum. After all, this is already fairly common psychology amongst freeway drivers. Take a poll. Most believe that driving 5 mph over the speed limit on freeways isn’t even speeding. “You can’t get a ticket for that,” these drivers will say. I dare not counter, “Of course you can,” because that is not a welcome response. Furthermore, no one ever goes just 5 mph over the speed limit anymore. That’s so 1970s.

In Los Angeles, we’ve basically adopted the attitude that you can drive as fast as traffic will allow because it is such a rarity to see a clear street that when we do we feel as if we’ve landed on open course day at the race track and just let it rip. (Please note, around schools such behavior is frowned upon even by the most diehard of traffic whiners.)

What I find most disconcerting about this trend is that drivers will actually begin to drive more slowly and then traffic will back up even worse in LA. We just don’t need that. Road rage will peak, and we will be in the news for all kinds of bizarre incidents.

What I’d really like to know is why the 30 mph limit is so widespread. Have you ever tried driving 30 mph? It feels like you aren’t moving. The close second is 35 mph, which I just consider a typo. 40 is more like it, but when we encounter 45 mph, we begin to see the word ‘reasonable’ instead of numbers. Unless of course, it’s on a freeway ramp, in which case we tell ourselves, “I can easily take that turn at 60.”

Despite my discomfort with these devices, the most laudatory aspect is that they’re solar powered. It’s amazing how a city can innovate when motivated. In the spirit of forward thinking, I think my city should mandate solar powered contraptions everywhere. Hanging off buildings, powering streetlights, running the gas pumps at gas stations. Wouldn’t that be a nudge to the energy industry?

In the meantime, I’m off to reset our alarm clocks. Due to the trickledown effect, if I’m going to start driving the speed limit, it’s going to require my leaving home earlier in the morning. It was one thing to begin daylight savings sooner this year, but forcing me to drive slowly and wake up even earlier? I just don’t know how much change a person can take.

11 comments:

kristen said...

Great post, having me give thought to my acceptable speed limit. I hate 30 but 35 is alright if you're going to have to obey a limit and all. I actually used to believe that the flow of traffic was the correct response but in fact, speeding is speeding, don't worry about anyone else. I do love the solar powered signs though and can't wait to see them in a few weeks.

QT said...

I have a leadfoot but I hate tickets, so I try to stick close to the posted speeds. There is an area I drive through that recently changed the limit from 55 to 40 and I get tailgated there every day.

I agree the only acceptable place where you should have to drive 30 or below is a school zone.

fringes said...

I'm with you on all counts. I give the glare of death to those who speed past me in school zones. Then I call and have a state trooper come out the next day to try to catch the mofos.

V-Grrrl said...

I have been pulled over for doing 60 in a 55 mph zone. No lie.

And on Sunday I was trapped in a taxi hurling through urban tunnels at 90 mph. I thought I was Princess Di on the final ride.

Deezee said...

I know I shouldn't laugh at 'Princess Di on the final ride' but my black humor let out a guffaw. Very visual description, you writer you.

Deezee

jen said...

again...this speaks to your connection to the inanimate. i continue to find that all so intriguing. alarm clocks and cars, traffic lights.

it's almost a symphony.

Emily said...

I certainly slow down in shame when I encounter the public speeding proclamations...they are really effective. Loved this take on the ordinary.

MsLittlePea said...

We have empty police cars parked on the side of the road where I live. Everyone knows there's no one in them yet everyone slows down 'just in case'. This really appeals to me because I ride my bicycle every moment I can. In the car...that's another story--I drive a little too fast too. But don't tell my husband I admitted it :o)

mist1 said...

I see all roadsigns as mere suggestions. The only one that I pay attention to is the one that says, Slow Children. I always feel bad for them and wonder why people brag about having slow children. You never drive through neighborhoods with signs that say, Accelerated Readers. Why is that? I'm sure this has something to do with the dumbing down of America.

Deezee said...

Mist, I think I should have commissioned you to write this post because your humor just blows my mind.

Deezee

anna said...

I never feel any shame when I hurtle by those signs - only fear of being busted.