Project Slow

By Lee Cropp

I would like to tell you what recently punched my launch button. It is the inane (the grumpy old editor wouldn’t let me use stupid) reaction of a large number of motorists driving in Huntsville. Apparently a large congregation of these have contracted with NASA to determine the affects of high velocity and essentially instantaneous stops on rubber, concrete, blacktop, metal, and plastic. Now that the City of Huntsville has threatened the validity of their data gathering by opening up a safety campaign to increase the life expectancy of Huntsville motorists, and possibly drop our auto insurance rates at least a minimal amount, many of this group have given a new meaning to the term “going ballistic”.

The root cause of all the caterwauling and cry of righteous indignation is the part of the campaign named Project SLOW. The underlying principle of the Project is the new “zero tolerance of speeding” policy adopted by the Police Department of Huntsville. For those of you who don’t know, the interpretation of this policy is not “essentially” but “absolute.” In other words being clocked at 50 miles-per-hour in a 50-mile zone will not get you a ticket; 51 miles-per-hour will. No excuses accepted.

The seriousness with which the City is approaching the Project is illustrated by one germane fact. The Huntsville City Fathers, which are not known for spending money on items that the electorate may be aware of and/or not like, shelled out funding for about 50 new radar guns.

The result has been a deluge of bitterness unequaled since the Republicans elected A. Lincoln. The phone calls to a local television station with an on-the air- recording and the Huntsville Times call-in column, as well as the letters to the editor of the same, have been a flood of anger.

There seems to be several basic baselines being taken by the complainers. First, that the City had taken away an inalienable right to go at least 5 miles-per-hour over the posted speed limit. In some cases, a whole lot more. Nowhere, after admittedly little research, could I find were the National and/or State Constitutions, codes, City and/or County ordinances give anybody the right to break any speed limit by 1-, 2-, 5-, 50-, or more miles per hour. Folks, it just ain’t there. And I don’t think you will find any allowances in the Common Law either. So if you break the speed limit by a minute or gigantic amount, and are caught, you should pay your fine like a gentle person. There is no legal out of which I’m aware..

Another common set is variations on the theme that our state and local officials, who we elected, are too dumb to be able to set the correct speeds. Therefore, the omniscient, omnipresent motorists should make the decision with their lead-feet. Never mind that they may be drunk, high, suicidal, mad at their wives or other authorities, or just plain overrate their driving skills and abilities. I do have some sympathy with this position, knowing that there are places were the limits are either too high or too low. If you want to change them work through the system, but if you break the law as a manner of protest, be prepared to pay your fine or go to jail. If I remember correctly, this was pretty routine philosophy during the early civil rights days in the 60’s. What’s the difference?

The third set of grumbles is that the police should be out chasing the real criminals who are threatening life and property. Again, nowhere could I find that speed limit laws are just for fun. Based on my experience over the years, and I’ve had a little, breaking the speed limit can be just as threatening to life and property as murders, druggies, and all the rest.

The last baseline that I could discern is that the City and police are out to make money. If that’s the case, so be it. The reason they are enforcing the law is irrelevant at the moment. What is relevant is that you are breaking the law, got caught, and in a nation ruled by law, not men, you pay the penalty. Or should we give second thought to the philosophy of the Free Men in Montana?

Of all the material I’ve read on the subject of Huntsville Police measuring velocity, the most succinct was give by Huntsville Times Staff Writer Peter St. Onge in his column, page B1, April 7, 1996. He said, “What we’re actually angry about is that something has been taken from us”.

In closing it seems to me that the Law & Order for which Alabama is famous appears to be highly selective. Or are we all slightly sanctimonious?