A country with too many laws is effectively a country without any laws

Traffic fine for going 2 miles below speed limit

Too many laws, or laws enforced arbitrarily, simply become a trap for the unwary. Such was the case for a Maryland woman driving on Interstate 95 in bad weather, with wind speeds gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Because the winds were ferociously buffeting her car, the woman (who remains anonymous) dropped her speed from the maximum limit of 65 MPH down to 63 MPH.

Little did the woman know that the easiest target for law enforcement is people who break the little laws, not the big ones. As far as one highway patrol officer was concerned, driving two MPH below the speed limit in the left (or fast) lane is going to get you a moving violation. Not just any violation, but (a) a fairly expensive one, coming in at $90; and (b) a black mark against the driver’s record for committing a moving violation.

The woman later told reporters that she was “really shocked.” Her first thought was, “Oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

The woman plans to fight the ticket and AAA is on her side. According to John Townsend, speaking on behalf of AAA Mid-Atlantic, the violation sends drivers “the wrong message.” Drivers should not have to cope with a police force that thinks “We will tolerate you driving at more than the speed limit, but if you drive below the speed limit then you’re penalized for that.”

Motorcycle officer writing ticket

Interestingly, those more concerned with convenience than reason, are applauding the officer who ticketed her, not for speeding, but for going a mere 2 MPH below the limit in the fast lane. Travis Okulski, who writes at the car blog Jalopnik, said

There are a lot of little things that annoy me on the roads. One is a slow driver in the left lane on the highway. Seems like that annoys Maryland cops too, because they just ticketed a woman for doing 63 in the fast lane in a 65 zone. Good for them.


Of course, the AAA thinks the ticket is “silly” and “sends the wrong message.” It’s actually the opposite. The message it sends is 100 percent accurate. If you feel you need to slow down due to road conditions, feel free to do so. Just don’t do it in the left lane.

The problem with Okulski’s rant and the officer’s ticket is that both clearly violate Maryland land. The Maryland Transportation code section governing maximum speed limits says that “A driver may not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed that exceeds these limits.” The woman wasn’t exceeding the speed limit.

Maryland law also says that “A person may not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed that, with regard to the actual and potential dangers existing, is more than that which is reasonable and prudent under the conditions.” One of the reasons it may be prudent to slow down is “because of weather or highway conditions.” The woman slowed down slightly on account of inclement weather.

It’s true that Maryland law says that “a person may not willfully drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” Considering, however, that the drivers in the fast lane are prohibited by law from going faster than 65 MPH, it’s doubtful whether the woman’s 2 MPH decrease in speed to accommodate weather conditions “impede[d] the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”

If the woman had been driving more than 5 MPH below the speed limit, on a clear day, both the officer and Okulski would have had a point. However, to the extent that 63 MPH is only 2 MPH below the maximum speed limit, the only conclusion one can draw from ticket is that the highway patrol is encouraging drivers to speed in the fast line – which, of course, violates the law.

And that’s the problem. There are so many rules, both spoken and unspoken, in today’s America, that it is impossible for people to avoid infractions that will lead to police action or a law suit. The same officer, on another day, can just as easily hand out a ticket to someone going 66 miles an hour in the fast lane. If people cannot know or understand the law, they will lose respect for the law and, eventually, break the law.

The effect of too many rules is the same as the effect of too few rules: anarchy, with government officials deciding what the law is at any given time.

(Written by Bookworm; first published at Mr. Conservative.)

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  • pakurilecz

    Can’t tell you how many times i’ve driven up and down I-95. Driving 63 in the left hand lane is dangerous. the average speed for the majority of cars on I-95 is closer to 75 mph or higher. The woman should have been over in the right hand lane. as it was her slow speed was impeding traffic. yes she may have been 2 mph under the posted limit but I suspect the vast majority were going way faster than the posted limit
    ““A driver may not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed that exceeds these limits.”” while Md law may state this it sure isn’t what is practiced. they may not exceed but they do on a regular basis

  • MacG

    Here in California there is a speed impediment law which states that a slower moving car must pull over when safe to allow faster cars to pass when there are 5 or more vehicles behind them.  However one cannot be pulled over for impeding traffic when the lead vehicle is going the speed limit (how did the followers get so closely packed behind the led car?).  One cannot impede traffic at the legal speed limit.
    Now if the cars in the left lane were going 75 and they came up on a car going 65 this can be hazardous.  But which one would be legally responsible in such a collision?  The speeder.  Two miles an hour slower for all practical reasons is not the safety problem but an annoyance   The safety issue is the impatient swerving in and out of traffic that some do in aggressive manner.
    Given the stated weather conditions two miles an hour reduction is not enough for 40 MPH wind.
    A 75 mile an hour ticket is more profitable and has a greater chance of reducing speeders rear ending a slower vehicle or sideswiping another going around.  I think that the whole story is not being told.

  • JKB

    To be fair, Marylanders have horrible left lane habits.  When in that state, you just have to deal but they do bring them out into free America as well.  
    Once driving, actually from Maryland, south, I was in TN.  Open highway, 70 MPH limit, not a car in sight.  I was doing 70 in the right lane when along comes a car overtaking me in the left lane.  However, they slow and hang in my left rear blind-spot (a Marylander habit).  Just hang there in the one hazardous spot in the situation.  Sure enough, I kicked off the cruise control to drop a couple MPH so they’d go past, and I was greeted with a Maryland license plate.  Once past, they took off again.  She might have done that, slowing to hang in the blind-spot rather than passing.  If so, she should be ticketed up the wazhoo.  
    Marylanders love to slow and hang in your blind spot so anything that breaks that habit is good in my book.  Even if I have to tolerate abusive government.

  • Call me Lennie

    When I was in the Army, it was understood that if any higher up wanted to screw you he could do so easily — just fully enforce one of the innumerable petitfogging Army regulations that are generally overlooked during the normal course of a day  

  • Spartacus

    Jonah Goldberg:
    “In the early 1980s, transit officials in Washington couldn’t figure out why traffic on the Beltway would grind to a near halt every day around the exact same time. The usual explanations didn’t fit.

    Then it was discovered that a single driver was to blame. Every day on his drive to work, this commuter would plant himself in the left lane and set his cruise control to 55 mph, the posted speed limit, forcing those behind him to merge right, and you can imagine the effects.

    To his credit, this driver came forward in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post. The man’s name was John O. Nestor. He explained that the left lane was great: less traffic, less merging — why not ride it into work every day? Besides, he wrote, “Why should I inconvenience myself for someone who wants to speed?””
    I would never argue that legislators, in their infinite wisdom, have crafted interlocking frameworks of traffic laws that actually make perfect sense.  And sometimes, yes, you’re *technically* damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  But I’ve spent too much time over the years stuck in traffic created by someone lazily left-lane lolligagging along due to cluelessness or passive aggression to have much sympathy.  Like JKB said, there’s probably more to this story than we are being told, and this gal probably should have been in the right lane long before she was pulled over.

  • JKB

    Well, that can be done even easier by a cop.  I was commuting up I-270 just above the Beltway. We were the 2nd car back in the HOV lane.  One lane over on a 6 lane highway was a County cop cruising along at the speedlimit (55).  Not a car in sight ahead of the line, behind packed like sardines.  We went a long a bit before the lady in front of us, just took off.  I’m talking 55-70 in no time flat, not creeping ahead.  Well, the cop has to pull her over so away he goes for an immediate pull over.  Once everyone got to the stop, it was the green flag.  
    Cops on the freeway during rush hour can cause massive traffic jams.  Not enforcement just driving along or sitting on the side.  
    I saw people acting like your story in Seattle.  The HOV lane was often slower than the rest because of it.  

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Rather than encouraging scofflaws and punishing law-abiding citizens, perhaps the laws should be changed.  65 could be a median speed limit.  Center lanes have to travel at or near that speed, traffic allowing.  Lanes on the left are allowed to go up to 10 miles hire; lanes on the right are allowed to go up to 10 miles lower.  Since that’s what everyone does anyway, why not acknowledge that in the law, rather than turning everybody into a criminal (and bolloxing up traffic too)?

  • Oldflyer

    I never tested it, but I was told in England that it was required, and enforced,  that you move from the fast lane anytime a vehicle overtook you, regardless of your speed, or the other vehicles.  In fact the fast lane was described as the passing lane and presumably not for travel.  In practice many drivers are going so fast that they are constantly passing..  Conversely, passing the slow lane was a serious matter.  I described to an English associate that while driving on a nearly deserted stretch of freeway, a car was in the fast lane, and would not yield, so I passed in the slow lane.  My friend advised that if the other driver reported me, I would be ticketed.
    There is a lot of brouhaha in the States over red light cameras.  Speed cameras on urban streets  are ubiquitous in the UK; although they apparently do not always have film.  You won’t know until you see the flash, or don’t see it.
    It seemed to me that drivers took driving more seriously.

  • shirleyelizabeth

    As my husband says, “Some people think the right lane of the freeway is for driving slow. Fact: There are NO lanes on the freeway for driving slow.”

  • Spartacus

    JKB — Yup, and in my experience, nobody directly in front of a cop dares to go a hair over the limit, either, which must be very frustrating for cops, who tend to speed when given the chance.  But it seems like the state patrol aren’t usually on the road much during rush hour, possibly for that very reason, or maybe because they don’t like driving in heavy traffic, either, and would rather take that time to do paperwork.
    Mrs. Bookworm — Amen!  Or, well, something like that.  Just a little more recognition that there are faster people and slower people, and faster lanes and slower lanes to serve them!  =)

  • Mike Devx

    I’m with most: Someone driving 2 mph under the speed limit in the left-most lane, *such that* traffic around him or her is impeded, is a very dangerous driver.  If you’ve ever been in a situation caused by that driver, with cars angling and switching lanes to get around them, you know what I mean.
    The argument based on pragmatism says to cheer the ticket, which should have been for improper lane usage, not for driving 2 mph under the speed limit.
    But we are a nation of laws, and 65 mph is not the legal minimum speed limit, so a ticket based on driving 63 mph as 2 mph under the speed limit should be thrown out.
    The unequal enforcement of traffic laws is another – and different – problem.  If I’m going 75 in a 65 mph zone, and someone shoots past me going 90, yet *I* am the one the cop pulls over for speeding, for going 10 mph over the speed limit, the fact that he ignored – or didn’t see – the faster speeder is no defense.  Irritating as hell, yes, but not a defense.  Me takes me lickings and me pays the fine.  The problem would the same for this woman for obstruction of traffic in the passing lane *even if* the other vehicles were speeding – if she’d been ticketed for that.

  • Ron19

    Reckless, speeding lane changers don’t cause accidents;
    predictable, careful, legal drivers cause accidents.

  • Ron19

    One of several sections of the Code of Law in Bookworm’s state:
    California Vehicle Code, 2011 Ed., Paperback: 1340 pages
    And for the rest of us, except Kevin:
    Code of Federal Regulations
    Items 1 to 100 of 255 total
    1 CFR (General Provisions)
    10 CFR (Complete Set.)  
    10 CFR (Pages 1-50.)
    10 CFR (Pages 200-499.)
    10 CFR (Pages 500-END.)  
    10 CFR (Pages 51-199.)  

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    She should have pulled over to the right, of course, but it sounds like the officer didn’t show much respect for the law.
    Also, how long had she been at 63 mph?…perhaps the wind gusts had only just reached the point at which her existing speed felt unsafe, and she had dropped to a little slower but there was not yet space in traffic for her to move over a lane.
    In the Federal AVIATION regulations, the following provision exists:
    § 91.3
    Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.
    (a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.
    (b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.
    (c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.
    Here we see a common-sense recognition that no set of regulations can cover ALL emergency situation,  that safety is paramount, and that the operator of the vehicle (in this case, an aircraft) must have a reasonable amount of discretion. 

  • lee

    When I was growing up, where I was growing up, the signs on the interstate read “Keep right except to pass.” And people were ticketed for riding in the left lane; the left lane was for passing ONLY. I think it is a subtle difference, but a GOOD one. I would’ve loved to have seen that on 5.
    I HATED driving that road, because MOST drivers seemed to think, “Right lane is for semis, left lean is for ME!” I felt like it was roller derby, driving down to LA–pass as many people as you can. I’d get to the point I would be afraid to pull off to eat or use the bathroom, because I would get STUCK behind the same idiots again…

  • phaedruscj

    I rarely disagree with Bookworm but in this case I must.
    Driving slow in the left lane is dangerous. It is for that reason in fact that Kansas has a law preventing such nonsense.
    Law or not driving in the left lane, impeding traffic or not, violates common sense.
    Putting peoples lives at risk while complying with the letter but not spirit of law is not OK.
    ” . . . with wind speeds gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Because the winds were ferociously buffeting her car, .. . ”
    40 MPH winds and ferociously buffeting? Seriously!

  • Charles Martel

    I try to avoid driving I-5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles because it is such a forlorn stretch of nothing. But when I must, my m.o., like most drivers on that road, is to settle into a steady 80-mile-per-hour pace. I stick as much as possible to the right lane and amuse myself by counting the number of drivers who are far more impatient than I whiz by at 90 or 100 miles per hour.

  • Mike Devx

    I’m guessing most states have ‘left lane is for passing only’ laws.
    Time for just a personal rant: I really don’t like those states that place different maximum speed limits on passenger vehicles and semis.  Example: 70 mph, but 65 for semis.  I don’t like it, and I think the vast majority of truckers don’t like it either.
    So I’m driving cross-country from Texas to Michigan.  I’m in one of those 70/65 dual maximum zones.  I’m probably traveling at 74…  (I know, I know.)   Just ahead of me are two semis.  The rear semi’s left blinker goes on and he eases over to pass.  Crap! Crap! Double-crap!  
    Because the trucker in front is going 64.8 mph.
    And the now-passing trucker is going 65 mph.
    So there I am behind him, watching him “pass”, inch by torturous inch.  Ten minutes go by, and he still hasn’t completed his pass.  Another five minutes go by, and finally, blessedly, he has passed.  But the line of vehicles behind him now stretches about an eighth of a mile, forty cars, say.  And we’re all grinding our teeth and probably pounding the steering wheel in frustration.  Later on, you’ll probably see us all doing 85 to make up for the lost time…
    I do blame the truckers, but I can’t blame them *completely*.  First, they’re on speed control to conserve as much diesel fuel as they possibly can for the long hauls.  But in speaking to a trucker neighbor, he admits that yes, they do this on purpose as well, because they resent the lower speed limit, and will stay within the letter of the law merely to make a point: “Take that!”

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    I understand all of you who complain about a slow driver in the fast lane.  I’ve made that complaint many times myself.

    The problem is that the laws are written to mean that no one can go over the maximum speed limit.  Anyone doing so is breaking the law.  Anyone going at MPH or even slightly slower is within the law.  What this means is that we’ve created a system where the law breakers are rewarded with a fast lane, while the law abiders risk getting a ticket.  Practically, the law abider should stay out of the fast lane.  Legally, though, she’s not the one who should be ticketed.

    The logical answer is to change the law.  As it is now, we have a topsy turvey system that rewards scofflaws (even tho’ the scofflaws have practicality on their side).  This i a dreadfully unhealthy situation, because it destroys respect for the law.  The answer when behavior not only can’t be changed, but also makes sense, is to change the law, not to punish those who follow it.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The unions must get their dues somehow, and the easiest way is to ensure that the police have a purpose, on paper, and are funded politically because of that.
    When the unions say that there should be a quota, the police chiefs usually follow along, as it makes things easier for the politicians to justify the expense of paying union benefits to the police.
    If that means making up crimes out of thin air or prosecuting the non criminals who don’t make hard efforts to avoid prosecution, then so be it. Sacrifices are required in the age of tyranny.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    “If people cannot know or understand the law, they will lose respect for the law and, eventually, break the law.”
    Btw, people aren’t going to break the law come the revolution. They were merely going to kill the people in charge of enforcement, which merely breaks the system, and thus no system, no laws.

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