Driving: A Pretty Good Model for How People Will Behave With Unlimited Freedom
When people don’t follow traffic laws, driving becomes a nightmare.
I drive something like 250 miles a day, five days a week. I am always surrounded by cars, and so I have seen a lot of nonsense. The nonsense never comes from nowhere, and so it’s always predictable and avoidable. With very few exceptions the best way to avoid nonsense is to follow traffic laws.
I drive past accidents every day. I’ve seen accidents play out every few days. It’s exhausting to see accidents because you often know they’re coming before they happen. I have yet to be in a serious accident myself because I have been extraordinarily lucky. Here’s the most notable near-accident from the last month involving me:
A parcel delivery vehicle (one of the big companies) was parked on the right shoulder of the road. I turned my left blinker on and found where space had been, the car I would have gotten in front of sped up. There were cars behind them with all closing the distance.
My next course of action? Slow down. Which I did, but the parcel delivery vehicle — which looked like a bread truck — turned into the right lane without using a signal and without accelerating on the shoulder first (it’s a big shoulder). At this point I was going probably 55–60 because I slowed down from 70mph. When the truck moved into my lane, it was going maybe 5–10mph. I was very close to it when this happened.
How did I get out of this jam? I had to make a sharp turn onto the shoulder of the road, barely missing the back of the truck, straighten my car out — just missing the concrete barrier by, as my passenger/wife put it — nothing. The absolute minimum space that could exist between my car and the barrier where no collision occurred. I went back into the lane and sped along to my destination with no further incident.
The most notable accident that did not involve me — as in it happened within a minute of my being out of the area — was this one:
I heard the sounds of the crash as I was taking an exit. I didn’t know that’s what those sounds were from until a short while later. Something like 20 miles of southbound 1–90/39 was closed for 11 hours. There was a fire, you can see scorch marks in the thumbnail of the article, but miraculously nobody died.
As far as accidents I did see? There are a lot, and every one involves someone driving 30–40mph over the speed limit getting upset at someone driving only 20mph over the speed limit.
What all of this has to do with societal limits on freedom is this: you cannot do whatever you want and expect to have a functional society. Any society that espouses unlimited personal freedom will, invariably, be destroyed by that freedom.
Traffic serves as the best example of this. A motorized civilization. Accidents with their resulting delays — or even just delays — are results, more often than not, of people not obeying traffic laws. I live in Wisconsin (I was going to be vague about it, but the article pretty much gives it away) and while we don’t have posted minimum speed limits — we have maximum speed limits. This is a very common feature. However, people seem to conflate the terms minimum and maximum because people behave as though 70mph is the slowest you’re allowed to go. Obviously, this is not the case.
While people will point to slow-moving vehicles in passing lanes as the cause of everyone’s woes, those vehicles only present a problem because people want to drive much faster than is safe and legal. It’s illegal to cruise in the passing lane in many areas of the country, and that’s why you see “slower cars use right lane” or some variation thereof. I enjoy this argument solely because it becomes a game of what is more illegal — driving slow in the left lane, or speeding?
When I say driving slow, I mean the speed limit. Often, I mean 5mph over the speed limit while passing other cars. The people most frustrated are people driving 80–95mph on a highway with a posted speed limit of 70mph.
So, even if we ignore individuals are using the left lane as intended, and say they’re doing 75 in a 70 — the issue is still the people who want to move even faster. The impetus of the problems still starts with them. Slow cars (again, cars going 70) are only a problem because you want to go over 70mph.
Speeders resolve these issues by cutting off other cars, weaving through traffic, and often causing injury to other people and — far, far less importantly — themselves.
If you look at most positions on freedom, you see a “I can do whatever I want so long as what I’m doing doesn’t negatively effect another person” kind of thing. I can’t think of a better example of this tenant being violated than people speeding on interstates, or texting and driving, or passing slower moving vehicles on single-lane roads within no-passing zones, or blowing past school buses, or [you get the idea].
Traffic laws are the laws it makes the most sense for everyone to follow to the letter, but they’re also the laws people are most likely to ignore. You do it. I do it. Everyone does it. But we really shouldn’t. People die from shirking these restrictions every single day. They damage property every single day. They mangle people to the point of permanent disabilities every single day because Brock BMW or Sammy Subaru can’t leave for work early enough to not drive like a jackass.
This makes police procedure so damn frustrating as well. You know what makes people obey traffic laws? A visible police presence. You know what cops hate doing? Being visibly present. Their vehicles are often dark colored and unmarked, hoping you will speed or cut people off, or whatever — so they can give you a ticket so you have to pay the fine and pour money into the Law Enforcement Money Machine. This is pretty standard stuff. They aren’t interested in your safety, not on an administrative level, anyway.
The mentality is easy to imagine.
- You want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.
- You only care about you getting to your destination.
- To facilitate this, you drive in a way that’s detrimental to the safety of those around you as well as the functionality of traffic flow.
This fixation on our own needs to the exclusion of others is why laws exist. It’s why they need to be enforced by police and by people on the road who should call the police when people violate the rules. Because without laws restricting how someone drives, they will drive like meth-addled loons and cause grievous issues to every single person around them.
And I’m really only focusing on speeding, here. There are myriad examples of selfishness while driving. I mentioned some earlier, but you can probably come up with more on your own.
Picture the nightmare your daily commute would be if there was no infringement a person’s driving. No police enforcing traffic laws at all. Right now, there are laws people choose to ignore. The reason it’s not always a chase scene in Mad Max is because enough people follow enough laws that commutes are, at present, minimally tenable.
But if we had no traffic laws to enforce?
In America we think we want total freedom. But if driving, is any sign of how people will behave if structures are too weak to enforce regulations, or don't exist — then the last thing any of us should want is total freedom. It will probably kill us.