Put the Pedal to the Metal

As I raced along to a lunch date today, my thoughts drifted to my ongoing battle with speeding.

I heard a sermon once, was heavily convicted about speeding and stopped driving over the speed limit altogether for quite some time. Gradually I began going further and further beyond the speed limit again, and soon I entered into a cycle of speeding, feeling convicted, stopping, and speeding again.

I slowed my pace and began to think about some questions I wanted to throw out to you for your response. I promise my intention is not to be on a soapbox about your decision to speed or not. This issue is simply curious to me, for the following reasons.

  • When and why did it become “ok” to ignore this particular law? We take other laws seriously. Why do we get to pick and choose the ones we want to abide by? -“I figure a cop won’t pull me over unless I’m doing more than 10 mph above the limit. So I try to stay within that range.”
  • What other law do we constantly justify that it’s okay to break? – “I’m only going 5 miles an hour over the speed limit.”
  • Why do we trust our own judgment of vehicle and road safety and assume the people who put the limits into place did so arbitrarily? – “Why did they set the speed limit to 35 mph here? It’s wide open and there’s never anyone around!”
  • And when we are caught, sometimes we’re even incredulous that we receive a penalty for our disobedience. – “I can’t believe he gave me a ticket! I wasn’t even going as fast as the others around me!”

If we’re not doing anything wrong, why is it when we’re zooming down the highway and see a cop our hearts skip a beat, we instinctively hit the brakes, and then constantly check our rear view mirror to detect any flashing lights behind us (not that I speak from experience . . .)?

God has allowed our government to have authority over us, yet in this particular area we choose to ignore that authority. (Now, I’m not trying to open a discussion around when we need to choose God over our government. I mean, we’re talking about speeding. We can’t say God would prefer for us to speed. And even if we felt the speed limit is wrong – are you seeking to understand why the speed limit was put into place? are you doing anything to try to change that? or are you just ignoring it and doing your own thing?) I think we, as Christians, have to wrestle with the idea that speeding is a blatant act of rebellion. We don’t tolerate that kind of attitude in our kids or in other areas, but when is the last time you repented for speeding?

I realize I speed because I am in a hurry, rushing from here to there and because – usually – I am late. So even the speeding itself is more symptomatic of other issues. A need to slow down. A need to do less. A need to plan ahead. A need to be respectful of other people’s time. . .

So anyway, if you saw me driving down the highway this afternoon lost in thought, this is what I was thinking about. I’m curious to know your input.



  1. Several points on speeding:

    There is a safety issue involved in that if everyone else is speeding (or going slow like if it’s rainy or foggy or icy) it behooves us to go approximately the same speed.

    Laws that are unenforced are ignored when they are inconvenient. And despite probably everyone getting a speeding ticket at least once in their life, we all know that the odds of us getting caught speeding are pretty slim on any given day. So we ignore the law.

    Also there are so many laws that no one can know them all, and we are all literally criminals. Ten commandments are hard enough to follow, ever looked at the laws of Ft. Worth? Or Texas? Let alone all the federal codes, especially the tax and customs stuff. Whoo!

    One thing I’ve noticed is that most speeding occurs on the highways. Most people drive very close to the speed limit on city streets. Except for that one spot on Camp Bowie when you go under the freeway heading towards Uncle Julios. There everyone goes a brazillion miles per hour. Anyway, on the highway you’re not going to have someone open a car door unexpectedly, a kid is not going to run out in front of you, you will not have to swerve (or not *) to avoid a cat or dog or squirrel. Most of the time I don’t even look at the speedometer until I get behind someone that is blocking traffic by going slow, or I find myself passing people. Then I look to see what the speed is, and adjust accordingly. I assume most people are the same way.

    I know one ever remembers what I do at my job πŸ™‚ We deal with turning analog signals into digital stuff that the clients can read. And the rule of thumb on analog systems is that you have a minimum error of plus or minus 1%. To get better resolution than that takes a LOT of money though. This is why when our clients buy 15000 psi pressure transducers to read 30psi maximum pressures out of a chemical additive unit, and want to know when they are at 4.75psi it don’t work. Because they’re within the margin of error. Now, speedometers don’t measure as great a range as those pressure transducers, but the theory is the same. If you’re displaying a speed of 60mph, you should be within 59.4 or 60.6mph. So technically, you could be speeding even if your speedometer is displaying 60mph on the dot. Now, the speedometer is an analog device, and all analog devices can get out of whack. When was the last time yours was calibrated? Is yours even calabratable? Oh, and as the tires wear they shrink, right? The outer diameter of the tire gets smaller as the tire is driven. So what size tire was your speedometer calibrated with? And is your tire still that diameter? Anything bigger or smaller will affect the reading. Since speed is determined by taking the diameter of the tire and using a formula involving the revolutions per minute of the axle to figure out speed. Change one of the variables and whoops, the reading will be off. My truck reads about 3mph off around 30mph right now, I figured that out by driving past some of those radar trailers that display the speed limit and show what you are going. I’m not sure what my truck is off at highway speeds as I’ve never seen a radar truck like that on a highway, and my guess is that the speedometer formula is not linear, so who knows how much I’m off at highway speeds. So, to sum up, even if you think you are not speeding, you might be!

    A good friend of the family was the head traffic engineer for the state of Texas. He was also the head of the Highway Department down in Houston for several years. All the Texas highways the have a maximum speed well under the safe limit for driving on that road. In other words, safety is not the reason the speed is set at X mph. If it was then all the roads would have had to be rebuilt when we changed from 55mph to 70mph, right? The reasoning behind the various speed limits varies, but talking with Gary the main reason speeds are set is money.

    For a while the federal government withheld highway funds if a state did not have a maximum speed limit of 55mph. Most all the states jumped on the 55mph bandwagon then.

    Recently the feds have been withholding highway money if HOV lanes are not installed, which is why they are all over Dallas now. And they are withholding funds if the pollution levels are not met, and one of the ways of meeting them is to reduce the speed limit. Although the difference in pollutants given off by a car in sound shape is not that much from 55 to 70mph. What would really reduce the pollutants would be to switch all the red lights to being traffic activated. How many times have you come to a red light when there was no opposing traffic, and you just had to wait there, idling, for several minutes before the light turned? Changing the lights to traffic activation would shorten drive times, too, which is another benefit. But you’ll not see widespread conversion of lights because it costs money to do so. Much much cheaper to just put up a sign and say this area is now 55mph.

    On city streets the main reason there are speed limits are revenue generation. Why do some streets go up to 45 or 50mph then back down to 30? So that the city can collect a fee there when you slow down just a bit too late, or don’t see the sign because some dude in a SUV was over by it when you went by and couldn’t see it. Y’all may not remember this, but it used to be sooo much worse here in Texas. There were changes in speed limits within blocks sometimes. It got bad enough that we passed a law limiting the percentage of income a city or county could receive in a year from traffic violations. Some small towns, especially those between big cities and colleges, had been getting close to 100% of their annual budget from traffic violations! Also if no one did speed then where would the city/county/state get that revenue from next? Think they’d reduce the budget? Or cancel/cut back on programs? Nah, they’ll get that money from somewhere. They’d be forced to raise taxes! So speeding saves everyone money πŸ™‚ As my government professor put it, a speeding ticket is just a tax on the flashy, the unlucky, and the dumb. He was also fond of saying that the lottery was a tax on people who were bad at math. πŸ™‚

    Oh, and from talking to Gary for years and years about traffic, a lot of the light timing and speed limit changes and such are specifically designed to piss people off so that you change from driving to riding the bus, or other mass transit. It was decided in the 60s that mass transit is a Good Thing, and thus anything done to increase it’s usage was also a Good Thing. Also highways are not “supposed” to be used for everyday travel, they’re only designed for interstate and intra state traffic. So all of use going up 35 every morning and down every evening are doing it wrong πŸ™‚

    So, since speed limits and such are arbitrary, or designed to upset you and force you to go towards mass transit, or are there for money generation purposes for the city, why not speed?

    * The last accident I was in that I caused was because I swerved to avoid hitting a dog and went into a ditch. Which would’ve been bad enough, but as luck would have it my front passenger tire broke through the concrete pipe running under the road and into the ditch for drainage and the wheel got stuck there. So I had massive deceleration from 45mph to 0mph is about one second. It tore my car up. So from now on, no more swerving unless I look first and there is absolutely nothing that I am going to hit or get stuck in.

  2. I cannot, in good conscious, leave a comment here.

    Leaving a comment here would be call “hypocrisy”, because I am the WORST when it comes to speeding. As a matter of fact, in every state we have moved in, I have gotten a ticket. I only have a week left in AZ to break my track record….this post was a good reminder!

  3. Sorry that was so long. I was at work and didn’t have the time to edit it down and make it more coherent/cohesive. I suppose I should have just waited till now, but I knew I’d be out late-ish, so… Also my math was off, my bad. If your speedometer reads from 0 to 100 then the margin of error is plus or minus 1mph, it’s not going to be plus or minus 1% of the speed displayed.

    Oh, and when I get a speeding ticket (5 so far) I always pay it with no problem and am polite to the officer. I figure they caught me fair and square, so time to render to Caesar and all that.

  4. I’m in the minority, so let me explain how I came to not speed. My mother is an occupational therapist who treats patients with head injuries and spinal cord injuries, most of which are the result of car accidents. I grew up going to work with her once a month on Saturdays and seeing these patients. Imagine being 6 or 7 years old and seeing someone with a metal halo holding their head in place as they sit basically immovable in a wheelchair. That image stays with you. Your seat belt and obeying the traffic signs become your best defense to ending up like that because you can’t control every driver. Did I mention I’m a type A rule follower???

  5. spaghettipie

    M – Wow. Math and all. I guess my answer to your question of Why not speed? is Because it’s against the law. Even with all of your very fine reasoning, does that make it right?

    K & LL – πŸ™‚ I am still curious as to your thoughts on why it is culturally acceptable to break this particular law versus others . . .

    A – I might have read that somewhere . . . πŸ™‚

  6. Ok, last comment, really.

    You asked: “What other law do we constantly justify that it’s okay to break? – β€œI’m only going 5 miles an hour over the speed limit.”

    The biggest one I can think of is taxes.

    When you mow the old ladies yard next door, and she gives you a $10, do you report that as income on your taxes?

    When you pay the kid down the block $20 to mow your yard or watch your dog while you’re out of town for the day, do you withhold Social Security and Medicare for him? Or get his SSN and report to the IRS that you paid a contractor $20?

    When you make a Christmas Wreath and sell it at the Christmas in July bazaar at your church do you report the income and pass on to the state the 8.25% sales tax?

    Most folks don’t think of those, but they’re all violations of the law.

    But there are others, too. Off the top of my head, another one I can think of is the Lacey Act, passed in 1900. It prohibits trade, possession, or transportation of fish, birds or wildlife that violates any state, federal, tribal, or foreign laws. It sounds good, but…some states have a minimum size for lobster. So under the Lacey act, if you pick up dead a lobster on the beach that is too small to be caught in another state, bang, you’re a federal criminal. People have been sent to jail for having Honduran fish in their aquariums. They bought them from a fish store, and it’s legal here to do that, but they’re illegal to export from Honduras, so under the Lacey act their possession is a federal crime. Technically every zoo or wildlife preserve here in the US is in violation because they’ll have zebras or elephants or lions or rhinos which are all illegal to own in several African countries. Thanks to the Lacey act that makes possession of and trasnportation of them a federal crime.

    Closer to home, if you had work done on your house did you get a permit? The city of Fort Worth requires a $100 permit if you want to change the front door on your house. $100! If you have a contractor do the work, make sure you read the permit, lots of times they’ll accept payment for the permit but not get it, and you are liable for that as the homeowner.

    When you moved the shed from one side of the backyard to the other did you take out a permit? And does it meet the new requirements at the new location? It’s no longer just 5 feet from the property lines, now it has to be so many feet extra off for each foot of height to the shed. And be so many feet from the power lines.

    Do you have a fruit vegetable or nut tree or bush in your front yard? That’s not allowed in Fort Worth anymore. But don’t cut it down without getting and paying for a permit first. Might even need one to trim the branches of the tree, not sure about that. I’ll have to look that up.

    Have you changed your oil in your driveway? That might violate zoning laws or HOA regulations. And what did you do with the hazardous waste you removed from the vehicle? I hope you didn’t store that highly dangerous stuff in your garage! How much gasoline can you legally store on your property? How much gunpowder can you store at your house before requiring a license from the city/county/state or the feds?

    Do you ever let your dog or cat outside without a leash? Do you register your cat with the city every year? Do you feed neighborhood/feral cats in violation of city ordinances? How many pets can you have in your home?

    Have you had a sleepover of your kid’s friends? How many non-family members are allowed to sleep at your house? There are zoning regulations about that, to keep rented houses from being packed like sardine cans. But they are equally applicable to kids slumber parties.

    There are so many laws on the books that no one even knows how many there are. So how could we possibly be expected to follow them all? Ignorance may be no excuse when you only have 10 commandments, but when there are so many that no one even knows how many there are, it should be.

  7. Ok I lied, one more, then I’m done for the night.

    Just because something is illegal does not make it wrong. And just because something is legal does not make it right.

    Horrible gut wrenching example that I probably should not use:

    If you were in China and got pregnant again, would you terminate the baby? That is the law over there.

    If you were a nurse over there and some woman came in with an illegal pregnancy would you terminate it? It’s the law.

    Another one: Is the guy in this picture doing the right thing? He’s following the law, so that should be a no brainer, right?

    Would you not help a man lying in a ditch because it’s the Sabbath and that’s not allowed on the Sabbath? Or because helping him would make you unclean? I’m pretty sure you’d help the ditch man, right?

    We have an internal moral compass. it was put there for a reason. When know most of the time when we are doing Right and when we are doing Wrong. If the law does not correspond to our moral compass then which law do we follow?

    Not that I’m saying there are deep philisophical reasons for speeding and how it makes the universe right or anything. It’s illegal to speed not for any Good reasons. The stated reason for lowering the speed limit on 30 between Fort Worth and Dallas was to lower pollution. But my truck is most efficient, and thus least polluting, when it’s in high gear and 2,000 rpms, which is 60 to 70mph depending on what I’m hauling around and if I’m going up hill or if the AC is on. So if I follow the law I actually make the situation they are saying they are trying to fix worse. that all that smart?

    If we should blindly follow the law because it is The Law then why do we have free will and the ability to reason?

  8. spaghettipie

    Wow, Mike. Lots of good thoughts. But I’ll make two disclaimers here. In your first comment, you list a lot of laws that we break and don’t realize. My question was related to laws we do know and intentionally ignore. In the second (fourth?) comment, you get into what I gave the disclaimer in the post for that I was not getting into. I definitely am not saying that we blindly follow the law because it’s the law. I’m talking about speeding and the law governing that. I don’t find any valid justification for choosing to ignore that law. I’m not saying I don’t do it sometimes. I just find it curious.

    You can comment all you want. πŸ™‚ I’m enjoying the discussion.

  9. meh

    When you find that one of your kids starts drivers ed. and is closely observing your own driving, then things get personal. When said kid gets his driving license and departs in his car alone on a daily basis, that is when personal becomes very real and you pray that your actions have preached louder then any words he may have heard in the previous 16 years. When several of his schoolmates die and/or are severely injured while exceeding the speed limit, that is when the reality of the possible consequences of breaking speeding laws breaks your heart!

  10. meh

    I pushed submit but forgot to put the “answer” to your first question. In a nutshell, I don’t think it is ok to speed. I may be a “criminal” in other areas, because I trimmed the tree in the front yard without knowing the law correctly, but if I do know the law I really have no excuse before God or man or my own heart. I occasionally speed. I shouldn’t. I have only gotten 2 tickets in my entire life. I almost never get caught because it is never by very much. But that doesn’t matter. I still shouldn’t. And having driving age kids makes that very much more real and personal to me as I try to be a good example in front of them.

  11. Ummm… I’m only going with the flow of the traffic. So I completely blame my speeding on others…

    But I guess that this just means that I need to have a little personal responsibility…

    “Thanks” for the challenging post…

  12. Okay, I’m back. I was going 10 miles over the speed limit a few days ago, saw a police car and instinctively slowed. Then thought of you.

    Here are the conclusions I’ve come to so far…

    1. I didn’t know I was speeding until I looked because of the police car. This suggests that sometimes we speed out of an instinctive sense of what feels safe on any given road.

    2. On another day, I was not speeding and knew I was not, but I still instinctively slowed down when I saw a police car. This suggests that authority figures have an odd power over our psyches, making us feel guilty even when we aren’t. I have felt this in other arenas as well.

    3. The same kinds of roads in different places, different states or towns, have different speed limits. This communicates, at a subliminal level perhaps, that speed limits are partly subjective. Whenever something is partly subjective, we instinctively understand that this is up for “discussion.”

    That’s it. Mostly, I like to be safe. I don’t think in terms of the law. I take the signs as signs… good suggestions for my benefit.

  13. wow, you’ve sparked some thoughts here! πŸ™‚ I’m in Jersey, so there are a lot of laws people habitually break here — speeding, littering, jaywalking, smoking in public places, smoking on school grounds, passing on the right, failing to use a blinker, holding on bumpers with duct tape, driving on the shoulder, going in reverse on the highway … yes. GOING IN REVERSE ON THE HIGHWAY. Argh. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves, yet I see someone doing it almost daily!! *sigh* I digress.

    Why do people do these things? You hit it with convenience. Humans are naturally egocentric. We are concerned about ourselves first and what makes life easier for us. If you miss your exit, it’s easier for you to back up than to make a u-turn at the next exit – isn’t it? But that still doesn’t make it right.

    My concern is with the the spiritual laws we decide are arbitrary. Sure, we can criticize one another for speeding, but what about gossip? When did it become okay to share other people’s dirty laundry in the name of “prayer requests” or “concern?” When did tithing become optional? (Yes, I know we’re not under the Law anymore, but we’re still told to give and only about 3% of Christians do!) Is the Great Commission optional? Are we doing it?

    Thanks, Tina, for provoking this dialog. πŸ™‚

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