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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Libertarian Radley Balko On Traffic Enforcement

     [George Mason economist Alex Tabarrok recently wrote] that there's no reason why our traffic laws have to be enforced by armed government agents.

     A police officer pulls you over and gives you a ticket, which you take home and decide whether you're going to pay, and you send it in via mail. Why can't you have some sort of civilian traffic cops who, instead of pulling you over, sees you speeding, writes down your license plate, calls it in, and you get a ticket in the mail. The end result is the same. You get a ticket in the mail that you can pay, or choose not to pay and face the consequences of that. The difference is you're not having this armed interaction or confrontation with a police officer, which is completely unnecessary.

     Our traffic laws need to be about road safety, not generating revenue. There are many studies done in Europe about using roundabouts instead of stop signs. There have been some really interesting studies about speed limits and how arbitrary they are. Our roads are actually built imagining people driving much faster than speed limits allow, which means cities and towns can place speed limits arbitrarily in a way that maximizes revenue in the city. I mean, there are small towns that 40 or 50 percent of their budgets are reliant on traffic revenue...

     Nobody's saying there should be anarchy on the highways, but we could have speed limits that are more organic, calculated based on how people actually drive. There's a study showing the safest speed limit is the one that's what the 90th percentile of people drive at. Right now the real speed limits are far lower than that. That just creates unnecessary police interactions.

     Think about all the police abuse cases that originated with a traffic stop...Think about all the animus and anger in motorized communities that come from the regular harassment from traffic cops. You take those out of the picture and it could go a long way toward rehabilitating the image of the police.

[American police reformer August Vollmer, in the 1930s and 40s, wrote extensively about the negative effects of traffic enforcement on police-community relations.]

Radley Balko interview by Nick Gillespie entitled, "Washington Post Journalist Radley Balko on Civil Rights, Militarized Policing, and the Power of Video," Reason Magazine, October, 2020

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