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By Ian Tartt
Nearly everyone is familiar with the concept of speed limits. In fact, many people routinely drive faster than the posted speed limits whenever possible. And libertarians are split on whether or not there should be speed limits, if government should be involved at all in the matter, and possible libertarian solutions to these issues. This article will offer some possible ways in which speed limits could be handled in a libertarian society.
Currently, speeding is handled in a punitive manner: break the speed limit and get in trouble. That works all right when there is something in place to catch speeders like a camera or a cop, but what about when there’s nothing like that around? There’s no real incentive to obey the speed limit, so most people will speed if they think they won’t get caught. What if there were incentives to drive the speed limit?
One possible way to do this is to reward drivers who follow the speed limit. Suppose it costs drivers a monthly fee to drive on a particular road. Those drivers who abstain from speeding may be given a discount for their good behavior, or perhaps on another road, drivers would buy a pass when they enter the road and turn the pass in when they leave. On the pass could be written the time it was issued; upon turning it in, the time on the pass would be compared to the current time. From there, as long as the distance between the point of issue and point of collection were known, some simple math could determine if the person had traveled above the posted speed (perhaps not for the entire trip, but at least part of the trip). If they hadn’t, they’d get a refund for the pass; if they had, they wouldn’t get a refund.
Another possibility is a points system. Drivers could earn points for obeying the speed limit, driving safely, following the rules of the road, etc. Once they accumulated enough points, they could redeem them for free vacations, oil changes, tune-ups, or other rewards. By offering rewards for good drivers, drivers would have an incentive to follow the speed limit and would get in the habit of doing so. Over time, that would make them more likely to follow the speed limit even without a punishment/reward system in place.
Perhaps the roads themselves could be designed in such a way as to make it difficult to drive faster than a certain speed. Speed bumps, which are already in use, could facilitate this. Other options for encouraging drivers to slow down include steep inclines, winding roads, and turns without much banking. These ideas would most likely be used in areas with lots of cross traffic or pedestrians, such as residential areas, business places, and schools.
Some private roads may not have speed limits at all. Owners of long stretches of highways, especially rural highways and ones that either have a lot of distance between exits or have almost no exits, may let drivers go as fast as they can safely drive. Someone might own both a stretch of highway and a more urban road. In that case, they would likely be more inclined to focus most of their resources in making the urban road safer; fluctuations in speed and driving patterns due to cross traffic and pedestrians would make car wrecks more likely to happen there than on the highway.
These are some possible ways that speed limits could be handled in a libertarian society. As with all speculation about how a libertarian society might look, these ideas may be close to what ends up happening or they could be completely off the mark. We won’t know exactly how a society without central planning will look until it becomes a reality, so until we have such a society, all we can do is imagine how it may be organized. In any event, if this article serves its purpose, it will get people thinking about options for managing speed limits and other matters in a libertarian society and may even be a useful stepping stone to helping make that society a reality.