In yesterday’s post, I talked a little bit about how it is common in the Italian culture to ask themselves why a rule exists before following it, rather than following it simply because it is a rule. That got me thinking about a conversation I had a few years back with a couple of American friends of mine, about speed limits and speed traps.
They were visiting me in Italy, and I was driving them around in my Grandmother’s car. We were chatting about this and that, when I suddenly slowed down.
“Why did you slow down?” They asked
“Well, because I just passed a sign saying that a speed camera was coming up. And there it is, see the little sign with the cartoon of a traffic cop? That means there is a camera over there. I’m not sure of the limit here, so I’m just going to be on the safe side”.
They started laughing uproariously in the back seat. I was confused, why is that funny? If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not get a ticket. When they finally calmed down a little, they spluttered “but…. but…. that defeats the entire purpose of a speed trap! You have signs over the cameras?! That’s hilarious! How does anyone ever get a ticket!”
I had never thought about it before. Does it defeat the purpose of having speed cameras, if you’re going to signpost them? Italy is certainly not the only country which does this, other European countries signpost their speed cameras too. Then I realized, it depends on what you think the purpose of speed cameras, or speed limits, is.
So, why do speed limits exist? And why is it important to check if people are obeying the speed limit?
In principle, I think we can agree that speed limits exist for safety reasons. It is safer to travel under a certain speed in a populated area, under a different speed on a highway, under a different speed on a mountain road, and so on. So, given that, why should speed cameras exist?
Should they exist to encourage people to respect the speed limit, or should they exist to punish people for breaking the rules?
If you think the purpose is to get as many people to slow down as possible, then signposting them is your best bet. Even if people like to speed no one likes to get a ticket, so in spite of wanting to break the rules, they will slow down on that particular stretch of road, at least. Sure you’ll make less money off of tickets, but essentially you will have achieved the goal of getting people to slow down.
If you think the purpose is to punish people for disobeying the law, then certainly signposting them is counterproductive, because people will see the sign, slow down and not get punished. Not signposting them will allow you to collect more money in tickets, but you will be collecting more money precisely because more people are speeding on that road, meaning more people are driving in an unsafe manner on that road, meaning your argument that “speed limits exist to keep people safe” starts to sound a little weak. Hiding the speed cameras gives the impression, at least to me, that you are far less concerned with keeping people safe than you are punishing rule breakers.
How about you? Do you think speed cameras should be signposted?