Where are the reporters running? D Volkskrant Meet in their daily lives? Today: Thomas Rupp drives down a highway in America and doesn’t see a speed camera anywhere.
I almost slammed on the brakes. Among the cloud of earth and tufts of grass, a car moves Meter in front of me. ‘Florida Highway Patrol’ reads the black side door. The siren doesn’t cry, but screams almost ecstatically. I swear. It’s not the first time I’ve been pulled over by the US police.
The Highway Police belongs to this country. All over America you see them as predators lurking along roadsides. Immovable – until they are not. They remind me of the big cats of the African plains. They don’t move, watch the herds pass, frolic in the sun, and then chase out of the blue.
The hunt is on. The police car shoots from me like a bullet. Within seconds he was out of sight. And then, inevitably, even against my better judgement, comes the relief that comes with flashing lights: They didn’t come for me.
Every American drives too fast. Seems carefree. On highways, 10 miles seems over the limit (usually 70, or 112 km/h). Norm. You automatically go with it.
It took a few weeks to realize how this was possible. An inseparable part of driving for Europeans in the world’s largest car country: speed cameras.
The Netherlands has one speed camera per 64 square kilometers. In the US, it’s one per 1,453 square feet. Of the 50 states, 32 have no speed cameras. Eight of them are even prohibited by law. States that flash do so mainly in cities – and then mostly in moderation. In my New York City, they go out at night and on weekends.
Privacy is the main reason. The idea that the government could impound any vehicle on the road gives many Americans the creeps. In almost half of the states, you don’t have to put a license plate on the front of your car.
Yet something changes. The number of fatal accidents in the United States is increasing: in 2021, 42,915 Americans will die. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg wants to test speed cameras in ‘pilot’.
You just don’t do it here. The plan drew the ire of both the left (more money for police) and the right (government interference). The National Association of Motorists, a sort of American ANWB, calls it ‘a nightmare’. The cameras are not for our safety, but for their income. Few things unite polarized America like flash hatred.
I understand. Flash-free driving is amazing. But yes, all those chases.
Citizens are at the mercy of the police. For a 10-mile (16-kilometer) offense, they’re usually not motivated, but you never know. (Flash!) Speeding police cars for crime can handle all of them safely. Even if no one misses the mark: Every run-in with the police carries increased risk, especially — as it turns out again and again — for non-white citizens.
A few minutes later I see the police car again. That criminal must have gone hard. As flashing lights flash, a policeman approaches him in the emergency lane, silence before that ominous knock on the window. ‘License and registration, please.‘
For a second I make eye contact with the driver in the lane to my left. The woman shakes her head in denial – then kicks her car hard in the tail. I do the same. Those agents are still busy.
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