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Speed limits

How the perspective changes with just a bit of time…

Precisely two years ago, while describing my preparations for the driving test for a UK license, I noted my annoyance with the speed limits treatment in England. The absence of clearly posted limits on any road where the “national speed limit” was in effect required constant mental calculations of what the appropriate speed might be. Single-lane country road? 60. Built-up area with lamp-posts? 30. And so on.

And seemingly as soon as you’d figure out the right speed, you’d come up to a sign demanding that you’d progress much slower on this particular stretch of the road…

After a few months re-acquainting myself with driving in New Jersey, I suddenly recall the “national speed limit” approach with some fondness.

That is because it feels as if the speed limits around where I live are the outcome of some random game of chance. No rhyme, reason, consistency, or common sense about them.

My parents live a few miles away from us, across a fairly densely populated suburban area. There is a school along the way, a Main Street of one of the villages, several mini-malls, a small business center or two. But most of the route is fronted by private housing, set well back from the road, with pockets of green spaces here or there. The road “type” changes in only three places: By the school, through that one village “center”, and it narrows to one lane from two at some point. Yet, by my estimation, the speed limit changes roughly every half of the mile. 35, 45, 40, 25 (school), 40, 45, 35, 30 (town), etc. A slight uphill? Speed limit goes down. An ever so gently wide curve? Down. A few hundred yards of woods? Ok, we’ll add 5 extra miles to the limit, but you can see the next after sign with the lower number even before you registered the presence of this one.

How there are not more accidents among the already less than stellar New Jersey drivers with the constant need to switch gears is a miracle.

I suppose I’m jaded enough to suspect that all these varying limits are artificially created by local councils to fill up the municipal purses in times of need via speeding fines. I just can’t imagine a sensible person finding any sort of justification for changing the speed limit 5 miles up and down that often.

England seemingly does it better, from my current perspective. I no longer have a feeling that I saw so many arbitrary speed limit changes everywhere.

And no, I did not get ticketed recently. This is simply an idle observation that percolated on my “future topics” list for a while.


  1. WendyB_09

    Around here it’s be just fast enough you’re not the slowest car in the pack of speeders (ie: the one that will get caught). That will change with the new year however, they’re creating a “super speeder” designation for ticketing speeders and it will cost you extra $$ AND extra points on your license.

  2. Tom

    “Switching gears…” Ilya, you have to join us in the 21st Century! We have a marvelous invention called “automatic transmission.” You never have to worry about switching gears, because it does it all for you, automatically! Wonderful gadget!

  3. Ilya

    That was a figure of speech, Tom. I meant to convey the constant application of one of the pedals… Although, I suppose the car still changes gears when you brake, or speed up.

  4. Tom

    OK. I used to be a stick-shift kind of guy, so I thought that’s what you meant. I stuck with it long after I should have gone automatic.

    I think you are right, though. Even if I’m not worried how often the car has to shift gears, or how hard it works (machines work, people think, or at least I hope they do), the need to constantly be on the lookout for a new speed limit sign to make sure you aren’t speeding may distract from all the other things you should be doing when you’re driving.

  5. Ilya

    As a matter of full disclosure, I drove automatic even in my years in Europe, even though roughly three-quarters of the population there still drive stick.

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