Editorial: Achtung, y’all

Getting caught speeding in small Southern towns has always provided good fodder for Gothic mysteries and horror stories: You’re an innocent family driving in your shiny new station wagon from New York to Florida for spring vacation when just at dusk, while you’re looking for a motel, you enter the town limits of a tiny hamlet in the Georgia pine barrens.

The hamlet is so tiny, in fact, you don’t even know that you’ve entered it; then having blinked, you missed it. Of course, you never saw the tiny sign showing the speed limit dropping from 65 to 25.

The next thing you know you hear a siren and see in the rearview mirror the signature blinking light of a police cruiser. If you’re lucky, you can pay the exorbitant fine and then drive on – avoiding the otherwise certain fate of having the FBI fish your skeletal remains out of a nearby swamp years later.

Although such scenarios would never play out here in real life, you should nonetheless heed the speed limit signs. In Washington, the signs are now spruced up and highly visible. So claiming you didn’t notice them is not a viable defense. And once you’ve noticed, you’d better take heed. The county’s sheriff’s department is dedicated and vigilant. And they’re not susceptible to charms and flattery.

And don’t take it personally if – God forbid! – you’re being given a ticket. It has nothing to do with the kind of car you’re driving, your bumper stickers or the type of music on your car radio. Just relax and realize that you’re just the latest addition to one of those fascinating threads of history. The first person to be convicted of going over the speed limit, according to Wikipedia, is believed to have been Walter Arnold of Kent, England, who at the turn of the last century was caught speeding at 8 miles per hour. His fine was one shilling.

Walter Nicklin