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The War on Cars - Paris Wants You to Drive at 30 Kph (19 Mph), Ridicule Strikes Back

Paris has recently adopted a speed limit of 30 kph (19 mph) for all of its streets. The European Union also approved a resolution on October 6 to impose the same limitations on residential areas and places with a high concentration of pedestrians and cyclists. Reducing the number of traffic deaths on the continent is the excuse used for that, but a recent advertisement campaign exposed how ridiculous that argument is.
Advertisement Shows Runners Being Flashed Due to 30-kph (19 mph) Speed LimitsAdvertisement Shows Runners Being Flashed Due to 30-kph (19 mph) Speed LimitsAdvertisement Shows Runners Being Flashed Due to 30-kph (19 mph) Speed LimitsAdvertisement Shows Runners Being Flashed Due to 30-kph (19 mph) Speed LimitsAdvertisement Shows Runners Being Flashed Due to 30-kph (19 mph) Speed Limits
A sporting goods store created the “Outlaw Runners” film to show that joggers can be photographed when running at more than 30 kph near the radars around the French capital. Although the goal was to demonstrate how these folks could be fast, it also reinforced how the speed limits are too low. If bikers and runners had license plates, they would get tickets too.

“Le Parisien” made a video about that in which authorities claim that it is not possible because only large metallic structures would be photographed. That argument was quickly dismissed by a cyclist that said he was flashed recently. The goal is to make cars slower than bikes, forcing people to ride them or go anywhere on foot. That’s what people who hate the automobile would always love to be the case.

These guys argue that the urban environment is for people, implying that all spaces should be reserved for pedestrians and bike riders regardless of the distance, weather, or what you have to carry. The car enemies present pictures of people in the Netherlands doing everything on bikes, even on rainy days. They share these images as an example to follow. I picture myself in the same situations and think how miserable I would be if I were in these folk’s shoes – or bicycles.

Cars are far from being the best transportation means for all situations. They are expensive, sometimes you don’t have where to park them, and there are often better options available depending on what you have to do. Driving to buy groceries around the corner, somewhere you could go on foot, is stupid for sure – if you can walk.

With combustion-engined vehicles, it was even not advisable. Driving your car for just a few kilometers (or miles) and turning it off was comparable to severe use. Oil did not have time to lubricate all components; the engine would not reach its ideal working temperature; spark plugs would get dirty and lose efficiency, and so forth. With EVs, that’s not an issue anymore, but it does not make any more sense because of that.

On the other hand, it is insane to think you would prefer to carry heavy loads on a bicycle. The ones that actually do this have no other option. Give them the chance to have a car, and they will take it immediately. China was a massive market for bikes. When the Chinese people got the opportunity to swap bikes for cars, they turned the country into the most prominent automotive market on Earth.

Would it make sense to travel more than 5 miles, take your kids to and back from school, or go shopping at Costco without a car? Public transportation is far from being the panacea architects, and urbanists claim it is. It is just not convenient in multiple situations: it may drop you blocks away from your home or force you to wait for a long time when you have no time to spare.

Even in cities where public transportation works as it should, the international health crisis showed it is not the best option all the time. Remember that only a handful of cities in the world can claim to have an efficient public transportation system. Paris seems to be among them, by the way.

By imposing really low-speed limits, governments and politicians are trying to demote people from using their cars to the point that they may prefer public transportation, walking, or bicycles to automobiles. They want to make it even more expensive by imposing fines if you fail to respect the ridiculously low limits. But what if public transportation is just too bad for people to rely on it? That’s what happens in most places, which leads us to an obvious conclusion: governments lower speed limits to hide the fact that they are unable to enforce the law as they should. In other words, they fail to ensure traffic can be as safe as possible.

Most countries grant driver’s licenses with an absurdly easy process. In some, you just have to prove you can drive around the corner and park to get the document. In others, many drive without a driver’s license because they know no police officer will ever stop them to ask for one.

Just check the countries where traffic is safer: all of them are also known for having the most extensive driver’s training programs before their citizens can sit behind a steering wheel. Implementing something similar in other countries implies considerable costs. The political one is probably the highest for decision-makers.

Any politician in charge that decided to make granting these permits harder would lose support from voters. They would also need funds to create the testing structure, train evaluators adequately, etc. Any opponents that promised to make things easier again would win the elections. Summing up, it would only work in societies that praise traffic safety and want these measures to work.

When it comes to enforcing laws, police departments lack the funds and people to do a good job in most places. Effective surveillance would undoubtedly help to prevent most accidents by going after their primary cause: people that do not respect traffic laws and speed limits, whatever they are.

I used the word “people” instead of “drivers” because pedestrians and bikers may also disrespect these laws. It is not unusual to see them crossing the streets in dangerous zones, not paying proper attention when doing so, or simply acting as if the streets belonged to them, in some extreme cases. The weaker link indeed has to be protected, but that does not mean it can do whatever it pleases.

I write this as someone who lost two grandparents that were run over in traffic. Both of them tried to cross the streets in a dangerous way and died days after being hit from complications caused by these crashes. Ironically, they were married and died about ten years apart from each other from similar causes.

The man who ran over my grandmother visited us to try to explain how she came out of nowhere and how deeply sorry he was. The driver was so mortified we felt sorry for him. I hope he has forgiven himself for what happened. As much as I miss her, it was clearly not his fault.

He was an exception. Regarding drivers, the ones that generally get involved in accidents are the ones that could not care less about speed limits or other regulations. They check their phones while driving, liter the streets, double park, tailgate, change lanes without using rear-view mirrors… you name it. I call them the traffic cholesterol.

Imagine how much safer the streets would be if a police officer frequently called these guys for a chat and a ticket. But it is easier to make driving a hassle and demoting people from using cars. The problem is that it can have the opposite effect, making traffic more dangerous.

If being ridiculed by an advertisement was not shameful enough, those that think they are driving too slowly are more prone to getting distracted. They can have the feeling that it is perfectly fine to check the smartphone, watch the view, read something, or do anything else while they are at such low speeds because nothing wrong could happen. In a way, the lower speed limit takes away their responsibility to drive carefully, which is not advisable when dealing with machines that usually weigh more than one ton.

In most charts about braking distances, what you see is that they consider reaction times as well. The most accurate ones say that reaction alone will consume 9 meters (30 feet) while stopping the car will demand 14 m (46 ft) more, for a total of 23 m (76 ft) of stopping distance. The reaction time for regular drivers is supposed to take 1.5 seconds. Distracted drivers won’t even stop before something bad happens because they will not realize there’s something to avoid.

Those lawmakers that now try to impose these absurdly low-speed limits should know about all this. They probably do but do not care. The uninformed may be genuinely concerned with safety, but they are trying to fix it in the wrong way. The ones with enough information have no excuse: they are “safetywashing” their loathe for cars.

These guys are using traffic safety as a pretext to get rid of automobiles. Reducing speed limits is just part of the strategy: cutting parking places is also very effective. Their main goal is not to curb traffic deaths: it is to kill cars once and for all. It is like cutting child mortality not by vaccinating, feeding, and caring for children, but by stopping birth.

By making life with an automobile impossible or inconvenient, they may prevail. By saying that anyone who argues against that strategy wants to see people die, they prevent dissent. I write this sure that I’ll be accused of that. But dissent about this is necessary: I want cars to survive. I want people to use them rationally and conveniently in the safest way possible, and I think ridiculously low-speed limits are dangerous.

Above all, I think car haters should not keep leading the easy life they are having until now. Join me in disputing the lazy solutions they propose for traffic safety. If we do it now, we may escape the need to wear license plates or put them on bikes. I bet that’s what they will propose next.

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