After attending a Black Friday concert with my family last week, I was making my short journey back to West Chester from Glen Mills fairly late at night. 202 was pretty barren, and I only saw a few cars, most of them driving 50 to 60 miles per hour, like myself. However, I was the unlucky fellow who was pulled over, just 0.7 miles from my destination, for speeding.
When the officer asked me if I was aware of the 45 mph speed limit, I honestly responded that I wasn’t, as I don’t usually look at the signs, but rather the flow of traffic. Along 202, that’s usually at least in the 50s. While this is well above the posted speed limit, that’s simply what I’m used to. The cop surely knew and understood this, but that didn’t stop him from writing his ticket and serving justice to me for my horrific crime to the tune of $151.
My father warned me just 10 minutes earlier as I left, “Watch out, the cops are always out in force around Thanksgiving,” and he was right. After leaving my stop, I saw two other West Chester police officers doing the same thing, and several more in the following days. This is not unique to West Chester, as I’m sure anyone can attest from personal experience in their own home towns. It is common practice across the United States for cops to seek out speeding violations around the holidays when more people are traveling. In fact, this is a practice that is dictated by the federal agency in charge of traffic policing.
In 2011, the most recent year I could find data from, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave out $773 million in grants to state governments to conduct “ticket blitzes.” A “ticket blitz” refers to certain periods of time when police heavily enforce traffic laws. According to Gary Biller of the Washington Times, this practices nets around $5 billion every year. It’s honestly fascinating how lucrative the “serving and protecting” business is for local governments.
One would hope that a practice which extracts so much money from citizens and reinforces current traffic laws would lead to a significant improvement in traffic safety. However, while local governments publicize information of tickets given out, they are less open about whether or not traffic collision rates have improved as a result. Instead, citizens have researched this issue and found an answer… over 50 years ago.
In 1964, David Solomon of the U.S. Department of Commerce published research on large quantities of data on traffic speed and collisions. His research found that the risk of a collision is lowest when near the average flow of traffic, regardless of whether that speed is 25 or 75 mph. In addition, going slightly faster in the left lane for passing also improves risk of collisions occurring. The flow of traffic, in general, is not influenced by speed limits but by countless other factors, including conditions that make each individual driver comfortable with a certain speed in a certain environment. Other government agencies and independent researchers have conducted similar analyses and have found similar results over the past five decades. Regardless, traffic policing remains the same after all this time.
Despite the harsh crackdown on speed limits by cops, traffic conditions can only improve if people follow an organic speed collectively decided upon in different conditions. This means that whatever intentions the federal and local governments have, the end result is simply an unofficial taxation based on your holiday driving tendencies and luck. In a college town like ours, most of these tickets are surely handed out to students who, as we all know, are one of the most financially secure groups in today’s economy and are the most reasonable source of additional state funding.
So, when the semester lets out and you head home for Christmas, make sure you intentionally increase your odds of getting in an accident if you want to avoid being extorted by our boys in blue!
Alexander Habbert is a third-year student majoring in urban and environmental planning with minors in anthropology and Spanish. He can be reached at AH855541@wcupa.edu.