Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Speed Limit

Our two oldest boys, Son Number One and Two, have started taking an interest in speed limit signs. We tried to put a stop to it, seeing that it could only lead to a bunch of annoying questions, but they are persistent. So we've been fielding questions like, "How come you're going 4-5? The sign said 4-0."

The other night, I was driving them home from a pizza party and had this conversation:
“Dad, you should be going 2-5, but you're going 4-0!”
“Why do you think I should only be going 25?”
“There was a sign back there that said 2-5.”
“Well, yes, son, but the 2-5 sign had the word 'school' over it. That means I only need to go 25 if kids are in school. It's night time. Do you think there are any kids at that school right now?”
“Let me ask you something else, son. Can you reach the pedals from back there?”
“Then stop trying to help me drive!”

Actually, I didn’t say that last part, but I was thinking it. What I did do was decide that I did not want to keep fielding annoying questions about the speed limit, so I decided to just go ahead and explain everything to them right then and there.

Turns out it's pretty hard to explain the speed limit to kids.

“OK, boys, here’s the deal. Speed limit signs are really just a guideline. A set of suggestions, if you will. But, that’s only in town. They mean totally different things on city streets than they do on the freeways. They are a hard and fast limit on the freeway, but nowadays they are really the reverse of what they were originally meant for. It’s complicated.

On city streets, technically they are a rule about the maximum speed you can travel, but realistically they are a guideline for more or less what speed you should be traveling. Think of them as a suggestion of a safe speed for a mediocre driver. If it says 40, then you can really go anywhere from about 35 to 50 miles per hour, depending on how good a driver you are. And believe me, there are all different skill levels of drivers out there. If you are a teenage girl holding a cell phone, you ought to be more or less parked, but definitely going no faster than 15. If you are like Daddy, and are a highly experienced driver with reflexes like a cat, you can go 55.

Unless there is a police officer behind you, then they are a rule.

On the freeway, the speed limit signs are something totally different. Technically they are the same thing as on a city street, but realistically, they are totally the opposite. They are supposed to be the maximum speed you are allowed to travel, but really, a speed limit sign on a freeway is the absolute minimum speed that anyone traveling behind you, including police officers, will tolerate. So, really, they are still speed limit signs, they are just the minimum speed limit. If you are going under the posted speed on the sign, you will be unsafely tailgated by everyone behind you, and if a police officer sees you going below the speed limit, he will pull you over to make sure you’re not crazy or on drugs.    

There is an actual freeway maximum speed limit, but it is an unwritten rule of somewhere between 15 and 25 miles per hour above what is written on the signs, depending on which part of the state you are in. If you are in the range between the speed on the sign and the unwritten maximum, you’re OK. If you go over the unwritten maximum, however, and you get pulled over by the police officer, he will cite you for going over the posted speed on the sign.

Does that clear it up for you guys?”

“Uh, Dad?”
“What does ‘technically’ mean?”
“Never mind.”

“What’s the difference between a stop sign and a stop light?”
“Good question. They mean the same thing, only you always have to stop at a stop sign, but you only stop at a stop light if it’s red. But the stop signs only count if they’re on a real road. The ones in the parking lots are not real and don’t count.”
“So, you have to stop at all the stops signs on the real roads?”
“But, Dad, you and Mom don’t stop at stop signs like you stop at red stop lights.”
“Well, son, we live in California. What we do at stop signs is called a California stop. You’re not really required to come to a complete stop. Unless there’s a police officer behind you. It’s complicated…”

Turns out it's pretty hard to explain stop signs to kids.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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