Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Soma That Speed

Speed limits. Fascinating things. Let me get one thing clear first. I'm not discussing the speed limit imposed on those places where it is justified such as near schools and such, physically disabled people areas (such as where the Malaysian Association of the Blind is situated which is a centre of activity for many blind people), in long stretches of road in residential areas (used also as a tool to enforce peace and security), dangerous blind (not intended) corners and slip-in roads as most Malaysian cities have, and to regulate certain stretches of roads for to cater to their peculiar circumstances. No. Those places are wholly justified. In fact, I say the police should be watching those areas. It is there that they shall find the law trampled if not driven over regularly.

But not on the highways. Not those vast, flat and seductive empty six-laners that God laid down for those of us that want to place our pedal to the metal. No. Those places like the Garden of Eden should be left pristine just as it was made. A grave matte black with vertical disconnect white lines without those metal poles with the red circle and a number in the middle at the side. The following yellow triangle signs however are welcomed: falling rocks, high winds, winding roads up ahead, bumpy roads, and perhaps one for cops around the corner would be greatly appreciated. So as you can tell by now, I'm talking about speed limits on the highway.

The question I always find myself asking is this: if the highest one can travel in a vehicle in the country is 110 km/h, (1) why do car makers that make cars for our country not calibrate the car to limit its top speed to maybe 120 km/h only (only army and police excepted) (2) why doesn't the government make it a policy to limit the cars to that speed only and enforce it? Surely it would be easier to do that than to allow hundreds of thousands of vehicles every few years with the ability to go beyond the speed limit at will and try to contain them. The assumption is noble - people should be able to regulate themselves - but not most third world developing countries in Asia, including our country. In these places, laws are mere guides, even an opinion perhaps. But operationally it is an absolute disaster. Why do it this way then? I'm sure I am also not the only one to have thought about this and asked this question. I am certain the question must have occurred to all these traffic experts.

Will it kill people's need and desire for cars? No. You still get somewhere in them and that's the most useful part about them. The speed is secondary. So the car industry may take a dent but it certainly will not bring its doom. It may even save fuel, cars that don't go so fast or are not high performance also don't burn fuel as quickly too. And for the record, even the Toyota Prius goes up to almost 110 miles per hour (approximately 180 kilometers per hour). Will it make it easier to do policing? Yes. It would be so easy to see who is speeding beyond the limit. Less traffic police resources have to be invested into this area and it can be used for other purposes.

There are all these substantial benefits in favour of reducing speed this way but still it is not done. The question parallels the existential one. Why did God make us in and for freedom yet fashion such a narrow path for us to be near his Grace? A test of our faith, we could rationalize but it still sits rather uneasily sometimes. But back to the speed limit. And I suspect a reason governments allow cars to be so much higher above the speed limit is because they in some vague way understand that there is a freedom in being able to break the law and go as fast as you can in your car. You have the freedom to keep within or to break the law. That is important. Because that is one of the most fundamental rights we have as human beings. They day we are not able to do that we would have either a Brave New World or 1984, or worse both. Which if you think about, is the direction our country seems to be slowly drifting towards. Anybody got some soma?

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