Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rule of Law

I was talking to a policeman a few days back, who told me about the raising of the speed limit on a stretch of highway in southern Utah. The decision was reached to change the posted speed limit from 60 to 80 (or was it 85?). The result? Traffic accidents dropped.

The reason (concluded after reviewing historical causes of accidents) was that raising the speed limit had caused speeds to normalize.Most of the accidents were caused by the disparity of speed between those who ignored the law and drove 80, and those who obeyed the law and drove 60.

When they raised the limit. Those who were going 60 were now going 80, and those who were going 80 were still going 80. Everyone was driving at the same speed, and accidents dropped drastically.

The lesson? Sometimes, obeying a law - even if it seems stupid - can save a life. Many laws exist to establish a standard, to introduce predictability, to allow us to concentrate on fewer things (humans are generally pretty bad at that, and they generally think they are better at it than they really are).

The correct way to deal with a stupid law is to change it, not ignore it (though the ideal would be to not make stupid laws).

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