Scoot: The real issue about lowering school zone speed limits

April 23, 2019 - 12:02 pm

Have you noticed that many of the controversial debates between Americans fail to focus on the actual issue being debated? When New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell suddenly and secretly lowered the threshold for generating tickets to motorists in school zones a passionate debate erupted, but most of those who offered their comments and opinions were not addressing the most important aspect of the debate. We live in a time when Americans are conditioned to form their opinions about issues from soundbites rather than pay attention to the real issue.

The debate over Mayor Cantrell’s decision to lower the cushion was complicated by a majority of comments about how speeding through a school zone is never acceptable.

On my radio show and in the posted comments on my Facebook page (Scoot On The Air), the number of comments about the 20mph speed limit and anything over that is illegal missed the real reason for the debate, which was Cantrell’s decision to lower the threshold without warning the pubic about the change in city policy. Few understood the real issue.

Here are a few comments from my Facebook post of an op-ed blog I wrote titled: “Mayor Cantrell uses child safety to hide a money grab.”

  • She’s political. Did you really expect her to tell the truth?
  • Call it what you want. Speed in school zones, pay up.
  • Don’t think there should be any threshold to begin with. What’s up with that?
  • New Orleans politicians are all the same, get theirs and screw their constituents. Glad I don’t live in the city and rarely go there.

The only point I made on my show and in my blog was that Mayor Cantrell made the decision to change the City-imposed threshold of 8 mph over the speed limit to 4 mph over the speed limit. The argument never challenged the 20mph speed limit through all school zones. I actually support that speed limit and do not have a problem with the city issuing tickets for anything speed over the limit. It was interesting that many of the comments were about defending the 20mph school zone speed limit and the danger of speeding through a school zone. That is not what was being debated, but that was the simplest soundbite people focused on to make their arguments.

The actual debate was about Mayor Cantrell’s insistence that her decision to lower the speed at which tickets would be generated was made secretly and without a warning to the public. And there were arguments that the public should not be warned about breaking the law - the law is the law. I understand that; but when the City of New Orleans imposed the limit of 8 mph and higher over the speed limit would generate a ticket, the City essentially told motorists they were allowed to drive up to 27 mph through a school zone and not get a ticket. There is only one explanation for Cantrell’s secret decision to lower the threshold without warning the public - it was a money grab.

Mayor Cantrell has continued to push back against the claim that her decision was a money grab, arguing even yesterday before the City Council that her decision was based solely out of concern for safety for the children. If child safety in school zones was actually the reason for the Mayor’s decision, then warning the public should have led to more motorists slowing down than the relatively few that were given tickets for driving the speed the city allowed them to drive.

Mayor Cantrell’s continued insistence that she was motivated by child safety and not ringing the cash register added to the trend of a politician hoping that if they say something enough times it becomes the perceived truth. That was the core of the debate - not justifying speeding through a school zone.

Furthermore, the Mayor cited a tragic incident involving a young boy in a school zone, but the rare incident was the result of the boy improperly getting off a school bus and was not the result of anyone speeding through a school zone. The point is that this was not an issue until Mayor Cantrell decided to secretly change the city’s own rules about traveling through a school zone.

I support the 20mph speed limit in school zones, and I support lowering the threshold for generating tickets.  I do not, however, support the Mayor making the decision to not warn the public. The City Council was also not informed of the change in policy. It is difficult to imagine that there was any motivation other than an effort to generate quick cash by trapping those motorists to which the city had effectively given permission to travel up to 8 mph over the speed limit.

The overall reaction to this controversy further demonstrates how quickly individuals are to jump to a conclusion based on a primal response to the soundbite that stood out in their minds. Basing opinions and arguments is much easier if they are based on a soundbite rather than making the effort to actually understand what the debate really entails.

The political trend of doubling down on falsehoods until they are perceived as the truth has never been more popular, but that trend is becoming a danger to America.

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