« Stopped by a policeman for exceeding the speed limit, Moshe Dayan says with a wry smile: “I have only one eye. What do you want me to watch: the speedometer or the road?” »
I used to be a good driver
A good driver is an attentive driver. A driver who is watching out, at all times. And I used to be one of those good drivers. My cornerstone principle was 360°×100%: watch the road, monitor the situation around my car every second, anticipate bad surprises and leave enough room for correcting my own and others’ mistakes. I was always adjusting my speed according to the real-time circumstances, not theoretical prescriptions invented by a bureaucrat in an office.
My first ±18 years of driving in the 360°×100% mode proved efficient and safe. I never looked at my speedometer during these 18 years, I was watching the road instead. I could be probably driving 32 km/h instead of the allowed 50 in a street of Namur if I deemed 32 the adequate speed. I could be probably driving 134 km/h instead of the allowed 120 when I was alone on the illuminated motorway in the middle of the Ardennes — maybe yes, maybe no, I don’t know. I never ever diverted my attention away from the road. As a result, during these 18 years of road-focused driving I have never had any radar flash, any fine, any warning, any problem in any country on any type of road — it means that my speed was always adequate, just naturally.
And then came the speed limit religion
It all changed in the early 2010s when the ubiquitous radars seized hold of our roads and the speed limits seized hold of our minds. E.g., the Swiss law (“Via Secura”) provides today for real prison sentences, up to 4 years, for formal excess of speed limits without any incident — speed alone is enough to put you in jail.
This draconian formalism naturally forces us modern drivers to comply. To do so we all do the same optical exercise: we permanently compare numbers on the round metal signs to the numbers on our dashboards even if it distracts us from the road and leaves us less time to react. I still want to pay all of my attention, 101% of my attention, to who is on the road in front of my car, but instead I’m obliged to wring my neck in a permanent formalistic exercise: road sign ⇄ dashboard ⇄ road sign ⇄ dashboard ⇄ road sign ⇄ dashboard ⇄ road sign ⇄ dashboard → ∞. Due to the effect of saccadic masking and constant change of focus I naturally lose visual control for milliseconds, and each of these milliseconds can be critical. I do this exercise, I comply with the speed limits, but I find this bureaucratic approach counterproductive and even detrimental for safety on the road. Why? Because driving under Via Secura and similar laws in EU countries is as follows.
“50. 80. Radar. 60. 50. Radar. 60. 50. Radar. 40. Radar. 50. Radar. 60. Who set this limit here and why? No rational explanation. 50-60-50-60-50-60: the road conditions under 50 and under 60 are identical, but who would listen to you? Why do they alternate the limits every 100m without a reason? 50. An informative radar displays my speed of 38 with a green smiling emoticon: that’s maybe the only useful thing. 80. 50. 80. 50: it’s officially a “built-up area” in the Land Register of the canton, so we drive 50 even if there are no houses and not a living soul in this middle-of-nowhere. 80 again. And this is my all-times favourite: it’s formally 80, but even if I drive 60 here I’m dead, because the turn is very steep. How do you know that? — No way: the limits mostly reflect the administrative status of the zone, and very rarely they provide information that’s crucial for my security. Then again: 60. 80. 60. A pit? a cyclist that unexpectedly pops up? a car in front of me that suddenly brakes? a boy running to the road after his ball? — everything is possible, and I want to anticipate this, but my attention is focused on my dashboard: “dura lex sed lex”. Motorway, so it’s 120. Suddenly it’s 100. Then 80 without a visible reason. 120 again without a visible reason. 80. 100. Radar. 120. 80. Radar. 100. Radar. 80. 120. Radar. 80. 100. Shit, I’m driving at 106, but was the limit of 100 cancelled or not? Or maybe… no! was that EIGHTY???!!! What was it: 120, 100 or 80? Shit, what was it? If it was 80, I’ve had it — I’ll be heavily fined, deprived of my driving license for month(s) and put on the black list for 10 years, while I did nothing dangerous, I was just driving and focused on the road. I’m alone on this motorway, I’m not putting anybody at risk at 106, but who cares about the common sense? Goodness, if it was 80, it’s curtains for me! What does my navigator indicate? Nothing: Garmin may not show the speed limit on the map when in Switzerland, only my real speed. And my speedometer? It shows 85. Is it OK or not? O-o-ps, I’ve missed my exit, it doesn’t matter, what only matters nowadays is Her Majesty the Speed. 120. 100. 80. 100. Shit: the needle stands at approximately 101, no, approximately at 102.5, is it serious? Too late anyway. 120. 80. 100. O-o-ps, something has flashed, is it a radar? Or a reflection of a sunbeam? Or my imagination? The needle is at 98.5, is it OK? Or not? Have I missed a road sign, was it still 100? Is my speedometer well calibrated? And the radar, is it? Or was it a sunbeam? No, no, it should be OK because I’m checking my speedometer every 5 seconds instead of watching the road. Must be a sunbeam. Or not?.. What was it, goddamn? And in the meantime, what’s the limit right now? 120? 100? 80??? Merde!!!!!!!!!”
And they call THIS ☝︎ “secura”.
You pedestrian, you my fellow driver, you biker are still my priority when I drive. I want my pair of eyes to be focused on what is the most important: on you. And you pedestrian, would you prefer to deal with a driver who is seeing you or a driver who is staring at his speedometer?