From the stand point of a non-interventionist, for a crime to be committed, there must be a victim; if there is no victim there is no crime. From this angle, it is easy to make the argument against most traffic violations. Serious crimes do exist in society such as murder, rape, assault, and theft where there is very clearly a victim, and people who commit those types of crimes should be held accountable and suffer the consequences of their actions. Speeding, failure to signal, talking on a cell phone, not wearing a seat belt, rolling through a stop sign, crossing a yellow line, and countless other infractions are not crimes by this definition, and these laws and their associated fines and punishments ought to be abolished completely.
The argument in favor of traffic laws are generally that of safety. Safety is a very important part of a society. People make the choice to wear or not wear helmets when bike-riding, life-jackets when on a boat, ear protection at a loud concert, or parachutes when sky-diving (just a little comic relief there). I have never met anyone who actively tried to inflict pain on themselves or others. The vast majority of people act responsibly while driving, they would act responsibly whether or not there were laws in place for that purpose. Those who do not act responsibly, and who inflict harm or damage to others will and should be held responsible for the consequences of their actions. The point here is that safety is a personal choice. One assumes the consequences of one’s actions in every decision they make. It is not the responsibility of the state to protect people against themselves.
Accidents will undoubtedly always happen. No number of laws or scale of punishment will ever change this fact. There is no human organization currently, and there never has existed one which could make road travel 100% safe. Even now, with the plethora of traffic laws, the quantity of highway and intersection cameras, and the ever increasing number of traffic monitoring police patrols, accidents happen and people get hurt and sometimes killed. There is no law and no method of law enforcement which could ever completely prevent the inherent risks associated with operating a motor vehicle. Because of this fact, every person who enters into a motor vehicle takes upon themselves a level of personal responsibility for his or her own safety. Vehicular travel is a voluntary decision. Like all voluntary decisions, risk and reward are weighed against each other and a decision is made.
The amount of money taken from those who have worked hard to earn it, in the form of traffic tickets and fines is great. Each year over $6 billion is stolen from innocent people who have committed no real crime in the form of speeding tickets alone. If that money was left in the hands of the people instead of given to the state to be spent arbitrarily, society would become more prosperous as people would have more money to invest, or otherwise spend and inject into the economy. It is true that the money doesn’t simply disappear when taken by the state in the form of tickets and fines, but that money is never spent as efficiently or with the same benefits as it would have had it been spent by free people in the marketplace.
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Throughout most of the country, speed limits are set at 55 and 65 mph. Anyone who drives knows that no one actually drives that slowly. In fact, cops don’t even pull you over for exceeding those limits. They themselves say that there is a “buffer zone.” If it is a limit, and it is too dangerous to society for anyone to exceed that limit, then why isn’t it enforced as such? Not only that, but many times these “law enforcers” don’t even obey the laws that they are supposed to be enforcing. How many times have we witnessed cops talking on their phones? How many times have we been blown by on the highway by a cop traveling at high speed? How many times have we seen a cop turn on the lights and siren simply to avoid being stuck at a red light or in heavy traffic? If those who are supposed to be upholding these laws don’t even obey them, then what gives them the authority to issue fines, penalties and worse on the rest of us?
Just about everyone who drives has driven well above the posted speed limit. Some people have pushed their car to the limit just to see how fast it goes. Most people have driven to the point where they no longer feel in control. Then they slow down. That is how it should be. People should take responsibility for their own actions, and shouldn’t be punished unless they injure the person or property of another. It is said that these laws must be in place because they decrease the likelihood of those types of injuries and damages occurring. That may be the case (I personally don’t think it to be so), but the point remains the same; if there is no victim then there is no crime. A person can just as easily cause injury and damage at 45mph as they can at 85mph. When governments begin to employ traffic officers for the sole purpose of targeting people who are exceeding some arbitrarily posted speed limit, it becomes just another tax and a source of revenue for the state. Hard-earned tax money is put toward incriminating people who have committed no crime. Those resources should instead be put toward more constructive enterprises; this is money that could be put toward education, or true crime prevention and punishment. Ideally, that money would just be left in the hands of the taxpayers to spend how they please.
These same arguments against speeding can be made for most traffic laws. Not wearing a seatbelt is probably stupid, but still a grown person can make that decision for his or herself. Driving while talking or texting on a cell phone is the same thing. Turning right on red can also be tossed in here. It is called personal responsibility. Most people know that when they are talking on a cell phone, they are less focused on the road. But the same can be said about eating a Big Mac while driving. Or fishing around in the glove compartment for a pack of gum. Or typing into your GPS machine to get directions to your next location. All of these actions occur on the road on a daily basis. All divert attention of drivers away from the road and onto other things. I am not making the argument that this is a good thing. The argument I am making is that trying to eliminate all of these potential dangers is simply impossible. Pushing resources into enforcement of arbitrary laws takes away from where those resources could truly and best be utilized. The decision to talk on a cell phone, eat food, search for lost items, type on a GPS, or anything else while driving is one that a person makes consciously. These actions take place millions of times every single day all over the country. The driver consciously makes the decision to do something other than focus 100% on driving. The driver knows that if he causes damage to another person’s life or property, he will have to suffer the consequences. Again, that is how it should be. People should suffer consequences only when they actually commit a crime, and a crime has only been committed when there is a victim.
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Lastly, there is one more traffic law I’d like to tackle. I’m sure this will come across as completely unconventional, but that does not mean it is wrong. It is simply taking these principles to their logical conclusion. Recently, New York State passed a new law which requires vehicles to “move over” for disabled vehicles as well as for patrol cars and emergency vehicles. There was a very expensive advertising campaign put on by the state: “move over or get pulled over.” I do not disagree with the intent of this law; I have been stopped in a disabled vehicle on the side of I-90, and it is scary when other cars are whipping past you as your standing outside your car trying to figure out what is wrong. This was years ago, before this particular law was passed, and I remember that cars were moving over even then. They did this voluntarily. They did not need a law to know that doing this was the right thing to do. I also remember that some cars did not move over. This was generally because it was unsafe to do so as there were cars in the other lane.
Since this law has been passed, I’ve seen how forcing people to do something through fear of being pulled over and being issued a ticket and receiving a fine can lead to unintended consequences. For instance, anytime there is a cop pulled off to the side of the road, people are now compelled to change lanes automatically, and sometimes without thought or caution. I recently had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting a car that had been traveling to my right as it tried to “move over” because of a stopped cop car. The driver of that car likely did not check to see if anyone was traveling next to him before attempting this. These type of laws can and do condition drivers to believe that there is only one appropriate response to a given situation when in fact, as in any situation, the appropriate responses will vary based on any number of conditions.
Part of making the decision to drive or ride in a vehicle is knowing that the vehicle may break down and they will be forced to pull off to the side of the road. Again, this is part of the inherent risk of making the personal choice of getting into a vehicle. Anyone pulled off to the side of a busy highway is in a dangerous position. I won’t argue that and I don’t know anyone who would. What I would argue is that this type of “one size fits all” law may actually, in some cases, put those pulled over in an even more dangerous situation.
Recently, just outside of my hometown of Syracuse, a state trooper was tragically killed when performing a traffic stop. Though few details have been reported, it is known that while pulled over, a tractor trailer hit into the back of the trooper’s vehicle, pushed the trooper’s vehicle into the other vehicle which had been pulled over, and the trooper died from his injuries. While that is the extent as to what is publicly known, it begs the question as to how exactly this happened. I have no idea if this was the scenario, but isn’t it at least plausible that knowing he had to “move over” per law, the driver of the tractor trailer was checking his blind spots to make sure it was safe causing him to take his eyes off the road in front of him? Isn’t it plausible that while checking his blind spots, he accidentally veered to the right and the result was this horrific and tragic accident? Isn’t it also plausible that if the driver of the tractor trailer simply kept his eyes on the road in front of him, making sure to remain in his lane and out of the shoulder that this trooper might still be alive?
Beyond all that, law enforcement officers would be put into these dangerous situations far less often if they weren’t constantly pulling cars over for victimless crimes. Eliminate the majority of these laws and much of the dangers LEO’s now face would be gone. They could instead focus on helping those pulled over with disabled vehicles. They are, after all, supposed to be peace officers and public servants. Let our highway patrolmen look out for people’s safety instead of looking for the poor saps who happen to have crossed one of those arbitrarily created laws.
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The tradeoff for having more freedom is having to assume more responsibility over oneself. If I commit a crime by doing damage to another, I fully expect to suffer the consequences. But please, do not charge me $150 for simply exceeding some arbitrarily posted limit. I want the freedom to keep the fruits of my labor, and I am more than willing to assume the responsibility that comes with that freedom. If there is no victim, there is no crime.