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Introduction: what's the speed limit?

In 1973, the then United States President, Jimmy Carter, addressed the issue of declining petroleum resources and increasing automobile traffic by the institution of a rationing plan that mandated decreasing consumption fairly and equitably across the entire population of consumers. The national speed limit (NSL) decreased from 70 to 55 miles per hour, and, according to experts, constituted the perfect rationing plan [1]. It affected only those who used a scarce resource (gasoline) and it applied to all equally. In a perfect world, it should have been an extremely effective conservation method.

However, many motorists in the USA were not eager to participate in this utopian plan designed to rescue the whole. American motorists traditionally drive at a speed that is comfortable for them, considering the surrounding circumstances regardless of a posted limit. The Federal Government assigning a speed that did not feel comfortable to the average motorist virtually guaranteed eventual noncompliance [2]. This otherwise fair rationing plan set the stage for a roadway game of evasion, detection, and escalating technology supporting both sides [3]. The law was eventually repealed because it could not be enforced [4].

As a practical matter, motorists who would comply with the law would not exceed 55 miles per hour regardless of the NSL. Motorists who, for whatever reason choose to exceed the speed limits, will always try to stack the deck in their favor when dealing with speed limit enforcement. As technology for detecting speeders improved, so did the technology for detecting detectors [5]. And so a fair and equitable rationing plan designed to benefit the whole at the cost of minimal individual conformation failed because the administrative cost of enforcing individual compliance effaced the advantage [6].

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