Traffic Best Practices: A NMA Member Editorial

We wanted to share this excellent editorial (also published in the Grand Forks Herald) by a long-time NMA member.

Let North Dakota Lead Way On Traffic “Best Practices”

From the beginning of time, people have been building and improving roads; and as needs, resources, and ability increase, roads become smoother, wider and straighter.

The single legitimate purpose of a road is that it must serve the population, either directly by giving people the freedom of travel or indirectly by letting goods and services reach the consumer.

This link between roads, driving and the population is so strong that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 provides that a citizen can register to vote at the same time as they renew their driver’s license.

But the government does not own the roads. The citizens have bought and paid for the roads, roads that then are maintained using tax money and government-assessed fees.

The roads belong to us, in other words. The only reason they exist is to serve the population.

And that means roads do not exist to serve the government’s desire to generate revenue.

Recently in the North Dakota Senate, a proposed traffic-fines law — House Bill 1278 — centered on two offenses: “Speeding,” and failure to come to a complete stop at stop signs.

Fortunately, the Senate voted against this bill.

We all know that most “speeding” tickets are given to people who have complete control of their vehicles and represent no unusual danger to themselves or others. Likewise, replacing existing stop signs with yield signs could often be done to good effect.

Almost exactly a year ago, the Herald had a well-written story headlined, “GF looks at higher speed limits” (April 6, 2010). In that story, GrandForks Traffic Engineer Jane Williams explained some important points. To summarize:

  • Speed limits do not have significant impact on driving speeds. Drivers tend to base their speed on the road conditions and the driving environment.
  • Posting excessively low speed limits does not improve safety.
  • Traffic engineers understand that in general, 85 percent of drivers choose reasonable speeds, and only 15 percent choose excessive speeds.

In addition:

  • Federal and North Dakota regulations — specifically, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices — suggest that the best way to set a speed limit is to perform an engineering study that includes a speed survey, and then to use the 85th percentile speed (rounded to nearest 5 mph) as a guideline for the limit. This is NOT the way most speed limits are set in North Dakota.
  • “Yield or Stop signs should not be used for speed control,” the above mentioned manual also declares. Furthermore, it continues: “At intersections where a full stop is not necessary at all times, consideration should first be given to using less restrictive measures such as Yield signs”

We will have more respect for traffic laws only when the traffic laws become more respectable. Speed limits should not be set arbitrarily by politicians and bureaucrats. Government is using too-restrictive “rules of the road” as a tool to generate revenue from fines; and the insurance industry supports this excessive restriction with propaganda campaigns and political contributions.

As you may know, the industry generates millions of dollars of undeserved income from the surcharges attached to the insurance premiums of motorists who have been convicted of traffic violations, including traffic violations that cannot be supported by the best practices of traffic engineering.

This is mostly not a matter of “citizens disrespecting the law.” It’s a matter of the law — and therefore, the lawmakers — not respecting the citizens.

The most common interaction between the North Dakotans and their police officers results from traffic enforcement. No wonder that there’s been an erosion of trust and respect for the officers and politicians. That’s the natural and predictable reaction to unjust traffic regulation.

If cities are losing money enforcing irrational and overly-repressive laws, let’s revise the laws to meet “best practices” guidance (as described in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) instead of increasing the fines and thereby abusing the public twice.

Our representatives should require that North Dakota’s traffic laws lead the nation in achieving the most efficient traffic flow while promoting true safety, as opposed to overly-restrictive laws that promote the only the appearance of safety.

Editorials or letters to the editor are a great way to spread the word about important motorist issues and we encourage all our members to share their thoughts in this way.

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