The Reason for Low Speed Limits

The speed limit on Route 3 is 55. The speed limit used to be 60. It was raised to 60 over 40 years ago when a study found 55 was too slow. There was never an engineering study supporting a reduction back to 55. It was reduced by executive order in 1973 to comply with the national speed limit. When the national speed limit was repealed in 1995 the highway commissioner ordered the low limit retained because he was afraid the state would be sued or otherwise embarrassed. So the speed limit is known to the transportation department not to be about safety.

It gets better. Route 3 was completely rebuilt a decade ago. The design speed for the project was 110 km/h (68 mph). The design speed is like a warranty: nothing in the road design requires a driver to go slower than 68 mph, not even on a wet road at night (the design conditions).

The average speed is not far from the design speed. The 85th percentile speed, which is supposed to be used for setting speed limits, is around 75 mph. A little over by my measurement, which found 1% compliance with the speed limit.

Eventually the absurdity of the 55 mph speed limit sunk in and in 2006 MassHighway traffic engineers recommended a speed limit increase. State Police vetoed the change, preferring the 99% violation rate that let them write tickets at will. Police have no legal role in setting speed limits. Somebody in the Romney administration weighed the risk of losing ticket revenue against the risk of being blamed for accidents. Police won. [Emphasis added.]

In this day and age, anyone who claims that the absurdly low speed limits generally found across America are about safety is either ignorant, stupid, or lying. Most highways are designed to be traveled safely at high speeds (and even most roads and streets have unnecessarily low speed limits), and cars made in the last 20 years or so are quite capable of handling well at high speeds, even under adverse conditions.

So, if you want to know why speed limits seem artificially slow, all you have to do is follow the money.

Interesting Readings for October 11, 2010

C. J. Chivers has a story in the New York Times from Uzbekistan which links up to an idea that I have often thought would be a great step forward for India: the interior of every police station in the country should be blanketed with video cameras giving feeds out to the Net. As Robert Kaplan says, underdevelopment is where the police are more dangerous than the criminals. If we think surveillance cameras are important in public places, they are triply important to watch the interiors of police stations. On a related note, see this harrowing story about a journalist in Pakistan. Do we do similarly?

A fascinating fact about insurgencies: while a diverse array of weapons can be in fray, ammunition is quite well standardised. Writing about the guns used by the Taliban, C. J. Chivers points out on the New York Times blog, `for the 24 rifles and machine guns in the locker, produced in multiple nations over many decades, only three types of cartridges are required to feed them‘.

Shobhana Subramanian in the Financial Express on C. B. Bhave. And, Sandeep Singh has a story in the Hindustan Times about Mr. Bhave coming through fine on one attack on him.

Ashok Desai reviews a book in Business World. Also see.

Auditor and Audit Committee Independence in India by Jayati Sarkar and Subrata Sarkar.

Developments on MCX:
- John J. Lothian is a respected observer of the global securities business. He has written a piece about Financial Technologies Group titled You gotta earn it.
- Mobis Philipose in Mint.
- Deepshikha Sikarwar in the Economic Times.
- A story by Deepika D. Thapliyal on NDTV.

An editorial in Business World on the MoF Working Group on Foreign Investment.

Learn R in Bombay.

Gautam Bhardwaj in the Indian Express on using the NPS to solve the problems of EPFO.

Sunil Jain on the difficulties of the data reported by the Indian statistical system.

An editorial in the Business Standard about developments on private container train companies, which reminds me of the conflicts between DoT and private telecom companies in the early 1990s.

Mobis Philipose worries about the apparent turnover numbers that we’re seeing.

An editorial in the Mint on the latest attempt to keep FMC separate from mainstream financial regulation.

Jan Sjunnesson Rao in Education World on the damage that the Right to Education Act is causing.

The Economics of Foodgrain Management in India by Kaushik Basu, DEA Working Paper, September 2010.

A recent paper by Guido Heineck and Bernd Sussmuth finds that the blight of communism runs deep: Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, we find that despite twenty years of reunification East Germans are still characterized by a persistent level of social distrust. In comparison to West Germans, they are also less inclined to see others as fair or helpful..

A great interview with Condoleezza Rice on Spiegel Online about the halcyon days of 1989.

The last practical connection with World War I just died away. The legacy of that war, of course, remains with us; everything that came after was attenuated.

David Sanger in the New York Times; Jaswant Singh and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom on Project Syndicate, on Engaging China. Also see these threats being made against Norway.

Mick Meenan in the New York Times about kabbadi going places.

A great story about the innovative logistics of the Italian army in Ethiopia in 1938.

Greg Mankiw on the high marginal tax rates which are hobbling labour supply in many countries.

China’s Charter 08 is a brilliant and well-crafted document, worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Norman MacLean wrote a great article in Lapham’s Quarterly about his 1928 experiences with violinist, watercolorist, chess player, and physicist: Albert Michelson. They don’t make men like that these days.

Randall Stross in the New York Times on the making of Steve Jobs.

Brad DeLong on Who can replace Larry Summers?.

A great article by Michael Heilemann on binarybonsai: George Lucas Stole Chewbacca, But It’s Okay, which made me think about how copyright, patents and `intellectual property’ fit uneasily into the creative process. As he says: Chewbacca didn’t spring to life out of nowhere, fully formed when Lucas saw his dog in the passenger seat of his car. That’s the soundbite. A single step. The reality is complex and human. From vague names floating around, the kernel of an idea, changing purposes and roles of characters, major restructuring, the design hopping from person to person, scrapping the existing concept and going down a different path, seeing existing things in a different light and having to conform a range of ideas to complement and enrich one another.. Everything is a remix.

At the frontiers of computing is `cloud computing’, where users rent equipment, e.g. by the hour. Amazon’s tariff card for such rental is bad news for developers who built knowledge on Microsoft technologies.

John Taylor has a story about Japanese currency manipulation. Recent research shows that the role of the Yen in global currency arrangements has been waning, and this episode of currency trading by the BoJ will exacerbate this trend.

The Scandal That is the Indian Police

The most basic public good of all, which should be the first priority of the government, is law and order. If you think of the principal-agent relationship between citizens and State, citizens would want to tie down the State to first focus on law and order, and deliver results on law and order, before embarking on mission creep. One of the unhappy consequences of India’s socialist adventure was a breakdown of this principal-agent relationship, and a loss of focus on this core function. See a recent column by Avinash Persaud in Financial Express.

Today, Human Rights Watch has released a top quality and incredibly depressing report on India’s police. (Via Nandkumar Saravade). We need to reorient government — as in financial resources and top management time — towards the police and judiciary.

Also see Bibek Debroy in Indian Express, and my blog post on the Bombay attacks.