Do as I say, not as I do. That was the message from Debra Panetta, chair of the Saugus Board of Selectmen, at a public hearing on reducing speed limits to 25. She said 25 miles per hour was too slow. The police chief did not recommend changing the speed limit. A traffic consultant’s report was not ready. But another selectman said he had to “go with his gut” and his haste and ignorance ruled the night.
Saugus is one of several towns that bought into ticket cameras a decade ago. The only reason they aren’t raking in the bucks is they got too greedy. State law requires tickets to go to traffic court. The ordinance called for an off-the-books payment in return for keeping tickets off drivers’ records, which isn’t allowed. Even the minimal protection of a traffic court where you’re literally presumed guilty is too much for Saugus officials. That’s the level of corruption we’re talking about.
The latest proposal is to lower the speed limit in town to 25, starting with three major streets. All the other kids are doing it, so why not Saugus?
The police chief did not support the lower speed limit. He explained a large majority of crashes are caused by inattentive, distracted, or impaired drivers. A 25 mph speed limit on its own would not help and police would not be able to enforce it at current staffing levels.
The board also heard an ongoing traffic review was finding problems caused by the history of imposing traffic controls without thinking about them. Badly placed crosswalks, for example. A report would be ready in a few months.
Ms. Panetta sounded like she understood the situation. She said she tried to drive 25 and couldn’t drive that slowly. She said she didn’t want residents getting tickets for going 27 either. Years earlier she had been hit by an impaired driver and knew a lower speed limit wouldn’t have helped her. She didn’t want to change speed limits piecemeal before the consultant’s report was ready. Other towns have blanketed their streets with 25 mph signs with no effect. She said she could post 2 miles per hour and it wouldn’t make a difference.
This sounds sensible. We know from Boston that the only measurable effect of reducing the speed limit to 25 was tripling the number of speeders.
Sounds sensible, but she wasn’t paying any attention to herself. She voted with the rest of the board create a speed trap by posting 25 anywhere possible. A street at the edge of town with no houses, currently a 45 zone, will be lowered to 25.
Sometimes the people making stupid speed limits don’t understand what they’re doing and why it’s wrong. The Saugus selectmen did, and they did it anyway.
And as for the budget increase the chief wanted, it’s not going to happen. There were the conventional noises about supporting our police force. But actions speak louder than words. The chief got the speed limit reduction he didn’t support and not the manpower he did support.
This is why I say ignore every speed limit in Massachusetts. Most speed limits come out of some politician’s gut. You have no way of knowing if they’re five miles per hour too low or 45 miles per hour too low.
I have an alternative proposal for Saugus. Since they like robotic enforcement and low speed limits, the selectmen should have all town-owned vehicles reprogrammed to have a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour. And personal vehicles of elected officials, since Ms. Panetta said she couldn’t keep her speed below 25.
It’s an experiment I really want to see: force town officials to obey their own laws. But nobody around here seems interested. The closest we got to actions instead of words was the Boston mayoral election in 2005 when the incumbent considered downsizing his SUV to appear greener.
There’s a saying in product development, “eat your own dog food.” It means use your own products to understand their flaws. Traffic regulation would make so much more sense if politicians understood the rules applied to them too.
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