Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Speed Limits, Part Deux; Or Bad Media Coverage, Part Un Mille (One Thousand)

In an earlier post, I discussed Speed Limits as an example of Legal Realist thinking.  If the "written law" says the speed limit is 65, but no one gets a ticket until they drive faster than 75, then a Legal Realist thinker may well be justified in concluding that the law ("law in action") limits speed at 75, not 65. But, I was surprised to see this "speed buffer zone" practice formally acknowledged in public.

The Department of Transportation for the State of Connecticut provided information for an article in the Hartford Courant (DOT Task Force to Drivers: Don't Endanger Our Lives) that was supposed to encourage people to slow down when approaching highway work zones. The speed limits on many Connecticut highways is 55, and in other sections, it is 65.  Connecticut law has long allowed for fines to be doubled for speeding violations in marked work zones. But this statement caught me by surprise:

Effective Oct. 1, Connecticut law will get tougher. Motorists caught speeding through a marked work zone at 75 mph or faster -- or any trucker or other commercial driver who zooms through at 65 or more – will be ticketed. Those who are convicted will be required to attend an in-person retraining class in addition.

What? No tickets until speed 75?  This is the new law to crack down on speeding in work zones?  Thankfully, this is just another instance of bad writing. The law regarding ticketing for exceeding the speed limit has not changed.  It is still an infraction, subject to ticketing, for exceeding the posted speed limit by even one mile per hour (whether that is what happens in practice is another story). The "new" part is the driver re-training requirement.

I was not the only one to pick up on the misinformation.  A letter to the editor printed in the Courant expressed the same surprise.  The Courant printed the letter - but no clarifying explanation.  Once again, the "law in action" may be less about how the law is enforced than about the public perception of how the law is enforced.  That perception, unfortunately, is shaped by media reporting on lawmakers - not on the the law-makers, themselves

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