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A Limiting Factor

Recently while driving, I saw a lone chair from what appeared to be a dining room set sitting on the side of the road near a “Speed Limit 30” sign. It (the chair) didn’t have a handwritten sign on it that advertised it as “free” (like we often see in our neighborhood, usually on or near garbage day). And it wasn’t near any homes, places of business or upcoming parade routes; just a chair placed along the road, near a speed limit sign.


The first thing that struck me about this scene was: Why does the sign say “Speed Limit” when most people–with unofficial police permission–use consider the “limit” as a “minimum”?


Forget the oddity of the chair sitting out in the middle of nowhere, for no apparent reason. Give my best friend/cousin Mike and I 30 minutes to two hours and we can come up with myriad reasons (some valid, most absurd) why that chair was placed in that location. It’s one of our greatest “gifts,” and one that entertains us to no end (just ask our wives, kids and friends).


Let’s instead talk about the term “speed limit.” Where in life is something so mislabeled? Face it, when you see a sign that says, “Speed Limit 55,” do you think to yourself, “OK, I should spike the cruise at 48 so I can stay clearly below the ‘limit’ and keep my conscience clean?” If it is, you’re in the minority friend because it’s common knowledge that in the case of road speed, “limit” means “preferred” or “suggested” or “minimum.” And taking this cautious approach also means you’ll likely end up with a rearview mirror full of a tailgating motorist spewing expletives and brandishing their middle finger like a light saber.


Besides, terms like “preferred” or “suggested” don’t hold legal water, right? Imagine how easy it would be to contest your speeding ticket in court if the signs said, “Preferred Speed 55.”


Judge: Uh, good morning, Mr. Hazeltine …

Me: Good morning, Your Honor, and it’s Haznaw …

Judge: Apologies, Mr. Hazelwood. Now, it says in the police report that you were ticketed for driving 77 miles per hour in a 55-mph hour speed zone. How do you plead?

Me: Not guilty, Your Honor.

Judge: Uh, you realize Mr. Humdinger …

Me: It’s Haznaw, Your Honor …

Judge: Yes, well, you realize, Mr. Hosenozzle, the officer had you clocked on radar and verified you were traveling at this speed, do you not?

Me:  Yes, Your Honor, but might I point out that the sign reads “Preferred Speed,” therefore making it a guideline and not a rule.


This scene would play out for a few more minutes, with the judge continuing to mispronounce my name (as most do), culminating in the judge expunging the charge because the messaging on the sign was vague and not legally binding, and afterward, wondering to himself why the damn signs don’t simply say “Speed Limit,” even though it’s not correct.


I get that we can’t use wording like “preferred” or “minimum” or “at least” or “Only suckers drive (insert speed) on this road … so hit the gas!” but to use “limit” just doesn’t seem right. Maybe we should just remove the words “speed limit” altogether and simply display the speed itself. (I’m think that’s the case in other countries.)


Or maybe I’m completely in the dark here. Maybe stating “speed limit” is precisely what allows police to cite drivers, even though I don’t know many people who have been ticketed for being less than five or six miles per hour over the posted limit.


I understand that it’s not reasonable to change and replace our speed limit signs. And I’m sure there’s a good (and legal) reason this specific wording is used. It just bugs me because I can’t think of any other situations an implied “limit” really means the “minimum.” And isn’t that the case? For most of us, when we see a sign that reads “Speed Limit 30,” don’t we read it as “at least” 30 miles per hour?


As usual, I don’t have a solution, and frankly, this inane drivel I’ve posited doesn’t merit one. For me, it’s just fun to bring up this stuff; almost as fun as it will be when best friend/cousin Mike and I get together to come up with reasons why a chair from a dining set would be sitting on the side of the road near a “Speed Limit” sign. (And I’m sure we’ll dive into the speed limit discussion as well.)


© 2024 David R. Haznaw

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