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I know I am preaching to the choir on this one, but I want to get this out:

Traffic laws are a travesty of the justice system, punishing people for violating nobody's rights. Everyone breaks traffic laws, often willfully and sometimes without even knowing about it, both of which suggest bad lawmaking. At best these laws serve as poor substitutes for what would otherwise be contractual agreements for private road usage, at worst they exploit the power of government force by expropriating wealth for use toward illegitimate government activity.

I am fed up with these laws. They are like taxes in that the money stolen from you and me is not great enough to warrant a serious uproar or rebellion, or even a letter to a government official. They are unlike taxes in that one can put a face to every single penny being stolen: the police officer, and as a side-note this has had a big negative effect on how I think of the police generally. How does one live with one's self when stealing money from another person, face-to-face, as part of a career?

The solution is privatizing our roads, whereupon everyone will be happy and nobody will be punished for using his own judgement on the road, unless it is warranted through contract breach or by damaging another or his property. That would eliminate the laws automatically. But since most people seem to accept roads as inherently government-operated, somehow setting aside the poor quality, upkeep, and price as a standard different from their other dealings with business and service, I doubt that will happen any time soon.

As a fast driver and a lover of the road (I dream of 7-lane highways), perhaps I am extra sensitive to traffic laws, cracked roads and congestion. Is there anyone else who shares my sentiment? What about the circumstances necessary for privatizing our roads?

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I know I am preaching to the choir on this one, but I want to get this out: Traffic laws are a travesty of the justice system, punishing people for violating nobody's rights. Everyone breaks traf

Common sense, as far as I'm concerned. Slow drivers are surprises, and surprises are my main concern on the road. Add to going against the natural flow of traffic speed: worrying about cops and speed

I share your sentiment entirely, and I'd like to add my contempt for the underlying, egalitarian, leveling anti-value value judgements that give these laws their admiration and support among the hypocritical general public. Traffic laws must be targeted towards the lowest common denominator of driving skill level. Not to keep these the better drivers safe from these people, but to keep these people safe from the inherently greater risk that involves mixing higher and lower skilled drivers on the same roads. Because these people need roads because they need to be able to get around - so the saying goes. It doesn't matter that, at least ostensibly, they are left to their own devices for survival in every other realm of life, but not when it comes to when it is needed the most. Traffic laws are an organized, concerted effort to avoid the fact that everything in life involved risk.

Why not just take these inferior drivers out of the mix? Because these people pay taxes - probably. It's absolutely disgusting on it's face, but even more revolting when you think about it. There is a strong correlation between being a low-skilled (eg: uncoordinated, reckless, etc) driver and being a low-skilled person. That means that groups like old people and poor people - who contribute little or nothing to the upkeep of these roads, let alone the enforcement of traffic laws - benefit not only from everyone else's confiscated tax revenue, but also from the forcible curtailment of their superior driving abilities.

Bahumbug!

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Yes, indeed, I do sympathize with you.

I think that the national "55" speed limit was one of the first steps in desensitizing both policemen and citizens to the idea of treating ordinary citizens - who harm nobody - as criminals. It was one of several factors that created a confrontational attitude of the policeman to the average citizen and vice versa. (another one being the "war on drugs")

And bear in mind, the claimed excuse for this speed limit was to "save oil," something that would not have been necessary if it hadn't been for the government's utter bungling of its responsibilities. A short list of bungles:

1) An utter failure to confront oil dictators, making us short on oil in the first place

2) The idiotic move of rationing, which ensured that the free market could not simply absorb and handle the problem

3) The use of government muscle to empower the unions, which busily destroyed Detroit automakers' ability to fulfill market demand for more fuel efficient cars. (at least we had Japanese manufacturers to fill the gap)

Furthermore, the government monopoly on, and complete (inevitable) mismanagement of the roads has ensured that road building has come basically to a standstill, while the number of cars has increased many times over. This has ensured that many must waste literally weeks of their lives every year in the breadlines that are traffic jams.

As if all this wasn't bad enough, government control over city planning has empowered the philosophic movement called "New Urbanism" (a Marxist and Environmentalist group) to use state power to further their efforts to stifle and destroy the car and the "sprawling" cityscape that goes with it.

If you haven't guessed it by now, I write on this subject frequently. Check out the first section of my "best of 2006." And then browse the archives for more recent material, if you're interested.

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Alright, I'll step up to the plate. As we know, the only problem with traffic laws is that they depend on the miscreant notion "public road". Optimally, some corporation would buy the roads and they would become private property, where your use wold be restricted by contractual conditions. Most existing traffic laws would simply be translated as contractual conditions, but it would be worth reviewing what those conditions would be. Off the top of my head, the following classes of laws would be part of a private road system.

Drunk driving

Financial responsibility

Stopping at red lights

Yielding right of way

Speed limits

Reckless driving

Hit-and-run

General driving (the interpretation of solid and dashed lines, marked no-passing, delay of vehicles)

The two things that come to mind as not having a probable place in a system of private roads would be vehicle licensing and mandatory restraints. So in fact there is nothing at all wrong with traffic laws, the problem lies entirely in the fact that the government owns the roads. That, plus the fact that corrupt dictatorships like New Rome were allowed to brutalize citizens in shocking Zimbabwean style.

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As a fast driver and a lover of the road (I dream of 7-lane highways), perhaps I am extra sensitive to traffic laws, cracked roads and congestion. Is there anyone else who shares my sentiment? What about the circumstances necessary for privatizing our roads?

They are not YOUR roads and you have NO RIGHT to endanger other people. It is a low grade from of initiating force.

If the roads are privatized the owners will impose use regulations as well as fees in which case we are effectively back to traffic laws.

Bob Kolker

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DavidOdden,

Your post resurrected the point of my first "at bat" that I so clearly had in mind until I started typing. You present a list of current laws that would become contractual restraints in the free market. I think you're absolutely correct - my only qualification would be that, given the nonegalitarian nature of the free market - many of those contractual stipulations (most notably speed limits) would be significantly changed to accomodate the people who could actually afford to use the roads and their generally higher skill level in driving.

Living in the suburbs, I can personally attest to many instances of well-built, well-lighted, well-maintained, and relatively lightly traveled roads have speed limits that are 20 or 30 MPH lower than what, at least I in my vechicle, could safely navigate at.

It's also worth mentioning that if roads were privatized, meaning a huge chunk of the population didn't have their cost largely eaten by another chunk of the population, there would be far fewer cars on the road - drastically changing the complexion of road useage contracts. There would be far fewer 1988 Corollas clogging up the nation's transportation arteries.

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my only qualification would be that, given the nonegalitarian nature of the free market - many of those contractual stipulations (most notably speed limits) would be significantly changed to accomodate the people who could actually afford to use the roads and their generally higher skill level in driving.
Everything would be for sale at a price. My opinion is that for masic economics of scale reasons, major commuter freeways and long cross-country hauls will be most subject to variation, and piddly little side streets probably won't change. The preemptive governmental property grab has left us with a terrible bind to resolve, something that involves more property issues than just transferring ownership of the roadway to a private firm. This will require some system of easements, so that people have the right to leave their homes. This happens to interact with a fundamental safety issue, that if you are going to raise the speed limit on a city street from 30 MPH to 150 MPH, you need to physically segretgate the road from the world (as they do with freeways) just to maintain basic safety for your customers. (Consider what a mess it would make of your car if a child or a dog stepped in from of your Vette going 150 MPH; that's like 7 tons of force on you). Fences aren't that hard to erect, but you have to be careful that you don't violate someone elses property right, in case they have an easement (which of course would be essential to a capitalist society, when made part of contractual negotiations).

To its credit, my burg seems to have reasonable speed limits for conditions. For example, the main N-S central "city street", High, has enough traffic and turns that 45 MPH would not be a clever choice except as part of a population-reduction program. The posted speed varies by about 10 MPH depending on whether you're in a high-moron zone or low-moron zone.

It's also worth mentioning that if roads were privatized, meaning a huge chunk of the population didn't have their cost largely eaten by another chunk of the population, there would be far fewer cars on the road - drastically changing the complexion of road useage contracts.
I don't follow this: you mean that there's a free-rider problem that non-drivers are paying for the roads of drivers? And therefore, prices would go up, reducing demand. Well, maybe -- but then the car-drivers would be subsidizing the non-drivers who take the bus, so we'd need to also get rid of public transportation (of course). I would not be surprised if the free-rider problem for drivers was negligible -- maybe someone has done a detailed economic study. But I also suspect that operational costs will be a low lower with private roads, so it might well end up being cheaper to drive on private roads (making it possible for more people to drive). The congestion problem is a result of not building enough roads, and not having too many 1988 Corollas.
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Speeding tickets are not about safety--they are about (1) revenue and (2) looking for drugs. In my short legal career, I've crossed paths with many prosecutors, some of whom have explicitly acknowledged to me that traffic tickets are for those two things. The revenue thing is easy enough to understand. The drug thing is pretty simple, too, once you realize that "a traffic violation, no matter how minor, creates probable cause to stop the driver of a vehicle." State v. Every freaking Fourth Amendment case involving a traffic stop.

That said, while of course it is true that the government should not own the roads, the fact remains that it does. And so long as that's true, I do not quibble with reasonable safety regulations. I do quibble with unreasonable regulations, especially speed limits that are obviously way too low.

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You need traffic rules, otherwise there'd be gridlock and nobody would be able to get anywhere.

Even a privatized highway system would consist of rules that drivers would have to obey with the eventual consequence (for failure) of being banned from the roads.

I can see an argument for privatization of roads.

But if the argument is against traffic laws altogether? Well that isn't going to happen, not matter who owns the roads.

You don't like speed limits? Well I suspect privatized roads would have speed limits, and probably more since they would want to minimize wear and tear on the road so as to maximize profits.

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Speeding tickets are not about safety--they are about (1) revenue and (2) looking for drugs. In my short legal career, I've crossed paths with many prosecutors, some of whom have explicitly acknowledged to me that traffic tickets are for those two things.
Yeah, the first point is in fact why New Rome no longer exists as a legal entity. Now since it is right and proper that there be some contractually-stated maximum and minimum speed for a private road, the question is whether it's good to have restrictions that are strictly enforced, or hardly enforced. As I say, I think 35 is a manageable speed for regular streets. One of the problems of crappy laws that are enforced only once in a while is that is encourages disrespect for the rule of law, because it perverts objective statements of conduct so that the "meaning" of a law is "however it tends to be enforced, or not, at the time". Having a contract condition that is, nevertheless, ignored at a whim, encourages contract-scoffing. So I think the limits should be higher, maybe make it 45 on regular streets, and enforce that condition vigorously.
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I am also a driving enthusiast, and would love to see Autobahn-style roads here, but I'm not sure how a privately owned road system would work. How would it be funded, by tolls? What if someone's morning commute crossed roads owned by several different companies? That could get very expensive, very quickly. And how would regulations be enforced? Without a police threat, there is no real incentive to follow the rules. Sure the companies can hire private security, but who is going to pull over for a rent-a-cop? How would requirements for driver skill level and proper vehicle maintenance be enforced, or would any idiot with who can pay be allowed on and put everyone else in danger?

Private roads are an interesting idea, and we definitely need something better than the current system, but I can't see how a working system could be created.

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I am also a driving enthusiast, and would love to see Autobahn-style roads here, but I'm not sure how a privately owned road system would work. How would it be funded, by tolls? What if someone's morning commute crossed roads owned by several different companies? That could get very expensive, very quickly. And how would regulations be enforced? Without a police threat, there is no real incentive to follow the rules. Sure the companies can hire private security, but who is going to pull over for a rent-a-cop? How would requirements for driver skill level and proper vehicle maintenance be enforced, or would any idiot with who can pay be allowed on and put everyone else in danger?

Entry to a toll road might be controlled by scanning a bar code on the windshield, reading a transponder (that is done now) or an i.d. card inserted into a door opening reader. Anyone who has been playing fast a loose with the rules will find himself unable to get through the toll gate or an alarm will be sent to the real police to identify the car as a trespasser.

Bob Kolker

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I am also a driving enthusiast, and would love to see Autobahn-style roads here, but I'm not sure how a privately owned road system would work. How would it be funded, by tolls?

We already see how toll roads work, and what I love about them is they have very light traffic levels. It's fast to get around!

What if someone's morning commute crossed roads owned by several different companies? That could get very expensive, very quickly. And how would regulations be enforced?

There would be rules, not government regulations. How would it work? Let the free market work, that's how. Let innovators come up with good ideas, and the guys with the best ideas will gain the most wealth. Believe me, nothing can solve a problem better than a free men applying their minds in order to earn wealth. There would definitely be huge financial incentive, because people have to get around.

Without a police threat, there is no real incentive to follow the rules.

Sure the companies can hire private security, but who is going to pull over for a rent-a-cop? How would requirements for driver skill level and proper vehicle maintenance be enforced, or would any idiot with who can pay be allowed on and put everyone else in danger?

No shoes, no shirt, no service. Ever see those signs? If you don't follow the rules, you can be kicked out, and if you refuse, then the cops can step in. In fact, the cops can step in if you abuse rules today, such as cause a fight in a bar, for instance.

Private roads are an interesting idea, and we definitely need something better than the current system, but I can't see how a working system could be created.

Can you see how to build a fusion reactor? I think that would take a few years of study. The point is, leave it up to those who want to spend their time and mind power on the problem. I guarantee, there will be a huge variety of solutions, and we'll see endless improvements, including, perhaps, things like tube highways, where getting around is blazing fast.

Private roads would be safer and faster, and I'm sure there would be roads for the bigger risk takers among us as well.

The other cool thing about the free market is that it's continuously under improvement. The pressure to progress is always there.

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They are not YOUR roads and you have NO RIGHT to endanger other people. It is a low grade from of initiating force.

They are not YOUR roads either! And yet they are, as you pay for them. They are everyone's and no one's. This is the problem with "public" property.

I believe the point is that going 65 in a 55 is hardly an initiation of force. Given that everyone is going more than 65, if anything the guy going 55 is creating the biggest danger.

It's also worth mentioning that if roads were privatized, meaning a huge chunk of the population didn't have their cost largely eaten by another chunk of the population, there would be far fewer cars on the road - drastically changing the complexion of road useage contracts. There would be far fewer 1988 Corollas clogging up the nation's transportation arteries.

As David correctly points out, the actual result would be quite the opposite. In most places, everyone drives and everyone pays. There are no free riders. Only in the deep cities are there people who do not drive and since roads are mostly funded with gas taxes and licensing fees, I kind of wonder how you think they pay. But, either way, urban dwellers are so heavily subsidized with public transport and other ways that big cities suck in tax money that I would hardly say that they are being victimized.

Speeding tickets are not about safety--they are about (1) revenue and (2) looking for drugs.

Quite so. Notice that one criminalization of a non-crime is tied into the other. There was a time in this country were the police were mostly confined to pursuing criminals. I'm told there was a completely different attitude of how people looked at the police, and vice versa. Policemen, it was rumored, treated people with a much greater degree of respect (and vice versa), and mottos like "to protect and serve" were taken seriously.

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Alright, I'll step up to the plate. As we know, the only problem with traffic laws is that they depend on the miscreant notion "public road". ...

Hi DavidOdden,

I am not so sure. This discussion might be illuminated further by considering that there are traffic laws on water.

Although I don't know much about this area, I think that in the United States we have boating traffic laws under various jurisdictions. For example, exclusively federal jurisdiction of "federal waters" is generally in waters from 3 miles offshore to a 10 mile limit or in a 200 mile economic zone from shore (whatever "economic zone" means). States have jurisdiction over their shoreline waters and inland lakes, which may be concurrent with federal jurisdiction.

For example, in browsing the Internet, I found this representative example of boating laws, including traffic laws, from the State of Maine, USA:

http://www.mainerec.com/boating1.asp?Categ...&PageNum=22

I also think there are international conventions and treaties regarding the traffic of ships on the high seas, including rules on how ships should avoid traffic accidents, the color and placement of lights at night, etc. Coast guard and military vessels operate under international laws and treaties, and also under national laws, to control and police against piracy (and of course to enforce drug laws).

It would be interesting to have an attorney familiar with admiralty law weigh anchor on this topic!

Edited by Old Toad
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I recently noticed that the public road system is not by any means among all the wonders of modern technology. Public roads are one and all little better than 1900's era trash. Everything else we have today, when not highly controlled, has advanced leaps and bounds faster than the public roads.

I am in favor of closing the public trash and permitting smart people to build a quality means of transportation.

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I recently noticed that the public road system is not by any means among all the wonders of modern technology. Public roads are one and all little better than 1900's era trash. Everything else we have today, when not highly controlled, has advanced leaps and bounds faster than the public roads.

I am in favor of closing the public trash and permitting smart people to build a quality means of transportation.

Please indicate how these alternate modes will acquire rights of way sans eminent domain. I am sure it is possible, but it won't be cheap or easy.

Bob Kolker

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In exactly the same manner as the very successful, very private, very extensive, and very profitable railroads of the old railroad age acquired said rights of way sans eminent domain.

In exactly the same manner as is always the case.

In exactly the same manner that Ayn Rand's observations and generalizations therefrom imply.

The railroads in the 19th century in the great plains region was built on land stolen from the aboriginal tribes by the U.S. Army.

No army, no Union Pacific, no Central Pacific. The Great Northern, however, was built without wide spread and egregious land theft. The land used was unoccupied for generations.

That is how part of the West Was Won.

Then there is the matter of the hold out. After 2/3 of the right of way is purchased a strategically placed land owner jacks his price up way out of sight. How is this managed without the creative use of force. If the price is paid, then it will a long time to recoup it from operations. What about a perverse holdout who just won't sell because he is an ornery cuss. What then? Have you worked out a Game Theoretic strategy for peaceful acquisition of the right of way (other than paying what the holder asks)?

Why do you think Eminent Domain was wired directly into our Constitution?

Bob Kolker

Edited by Robert J. Kolker
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Use call options. I think game theory is silly, by the way.

To expand on this--you buy, for very low prices, options from a lot of people along different possible routes to purchase their land. If someone holds out, perhaps his neighbors to either side did not. In any case you do not have to actually buy anything until you know that there is a complete route available.

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Oh boy. Is that meant as humor? "Stolen?"

Perhaps conquered would be a better description. Most American Indians did not have private property, and some had lands held by their tribal governments. Political systems varied from small nomadic groups to the more sophisticated Iriquois Confederation.

I leave the characterization as to whether the land was stolen or not to some other debate. But it was a case of conquest and they lost. And it was a long time ago, and the people involved are dead.

It is true though that, with exception to James J. Hill's Great Northern Railroad, government often gave lands to railroads or other companies that gained their favor. It is part of the "political class" that folks like Hill warned about. That as soon as it takes over, we're doomed.

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I know I am preaching to the choir on this one, but I want to get this out:

Traffic laws are a travesty of the justice system, punishing people for violating nobody's rights. Everyone breaks traffic laws, often willfully and sometimes without even knowing about it, both of which suggest bad lawmaking. At best these laws serve as poor substitutes for what would otherwise be contractual agreements for private road usage, at worst they exploit the power of government force by expropriating wealth for use toward illegitimate government activity.

(snip)

The solution is privatizing our roads, whereupon everyone will be happy and nobody will be punished for using his own judgement on the road, unless it is warranted through contract breach or by damaging another or his property. That would eliminate the laws automatically. But since most people seem to accept roads as inherently government-operated, somehow setting aside the poor quality, upkeep, and price as a standard different from their other dealings with business and service, I doubt that will happen any time soon.

Those are all valid points, but they are each separate issues because they have separate causes and have remedies that are not mutually exclusive.

Recently a discussion on a question of conduct in a zoning-related matter involving someone's property drew a response from someone along the lines of "there shouldn't be zoning, the property owner has inherent rights, government shouldn't butt in, it's the city officials that should be prosecuted for violating rights," etc. But that kind of response is not only impractical, it is evasive, and nearly escapism, because it fails to address the matter at hand. Though people of many stripes are guilty of this, I see my fellow Objectivists do this quite a bit. To be sure, if I wanted to fight a ticket, I can't just argue there should be no traffic laws on a philosophical basis and suggest that the cop should be put on trial. In a court I would have to argue based on the system of law, or be held in contempt and jailed.

If the issue is whether there should be traffic laws, address the traffic laws. If the issue is road privatization, then the thread should be titled as road privatization. Bad lawmaking is bad lawmaking, and could exist even if the roads were privately owned. We could have good lawmaking and public roads, if only the legislature could pass objective laws. Road privatization is a different issue.

As to whether there should be even objective traffic laws, they could exist whether or not the road system is public because laws can reach into private property, and do. In fact, some motor vehicle laws also apply on private property. Recently in my area, we reported on a father who was accused of driving drunk in the rain, offroading up a muddy hill on private property. Their truck rolled, the boy apparently was not restrained and he died. The father was charged with manslaughter, DUI and related offenses.

A privately held road system could be covered by a purely private contract among drivers and road owners, or the government could regulate conduct with laws. Whether those laws are good or bad is another matter. Whether the government should do it, or whether it should be private contract, is another matter.

To purely address traffic laws, and whether in concept they are good or bad, these laws could be justified because certain activities by drivers — such as speeding, driving drunk, driving erratically or driving in the wrong direction — could endanger the lives and property of other motorists, and it is the proper role of government to protect life and property. This is true in a private or public road. Battery, homicide and theft are all illegal even on private property, for instance, for that reason.

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The railroads in the 19th century in the great plains region was built on land stolen from the aboriginal tribes by the U.S. Army.

While I do think a case can be made that in some cases land was stolen from aboriginal tribes that were farmers and had cultivated the land in question, I don't see where any case can be made that the groups in the plains region had put the land to any use. Thus there were no "owners" in that area.

One must do something to improve the land to claim ownership.

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