I HAVE A disease. That may sound strange given that I’m a seemingly healthy 26 year old with a rigorous five-hours-a-day hot yoga routine. But in today’s victimization culture, I’m convinced not only that I can be classified as sick, but also that my sickness should entitle me to, at the bare minimum, free health care for the rest of my life, promptly accessible by a call on my Obamaphone.
My condition is called intermittent explosive disorder, or in more common parlance, road rage. I’m a generally calm and measured person who develops homicidal tendencies behind the wheel of a car. If you’re a fellow RR-sufferer, you know the noisome cocktail of symptoms: the rush of blood to the head, the parched grip on the steering wheel, the urge to shout “Learn how to drive!” every time a fellow denizen of the highway commits a microscopic infraction. I haven’t done any research, but I imagine that if I consulted the Department of Health and Human Services, they would tell me that something like 410 million Americans are afflicted by road rage every year, an unknown number of whom are illegal immigrants.
I believe my road rage entitles me to government restitution because my road rage is caused by the government. I say this not because I instinctively blame the government for everything, though I do, but because the traffic snarls that flare my symptoms are, by and large, the fault of bureaucrats.
Nothing juxtaposes freedom and government intrusion quite like our highway system. On one hand, our interstates represent a freedom of movement unprecedented in human history. On the other hand, they put drivers at the mercy of the state. Social engineers are forever trying to coax Americans into moving from point A to point B; on the highway, they’re already doing just that, and on government property. The busybodies can tinker to their blackened hearts’ content.
This is especially true around Washington, D.C., where I live. Commuters are subjected to numerous horrors, including the worst gridlock in the country and the driving skills of Maryland residents. So it’s a bit grating that, on top of all that, the local department of transportation can decide to—as it once did, and without any warning—close off two lanes of I-95 North on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, creating two hours of jammed traffic. Then afterward, it can charge a toll for the privilege of traveling on its impassable roads. And God forbid you try to pass the time by talking on a handheld cell phone—you’ll be ambushed by a cop driving on one of those nice, spacious shoulders, which you are, under no circumstances short of the advanced stages of childbirth, allowed to use.
Once the traffic starts moving, government gets to dabble in one of its most cherished hobbies: promulgating absurd laws that are impossible to follow. The concept of speed limits makes some sense; when 17-year-old Johnny flies down Old Wheeler Lane past an elementary school teeming with dozens of tenured crossing guards, he poses a safety risk and must be regulated. But today’s speed limits, especially those on highways, are so low as to turn nearly every driver into a criminal, and, more urgently, a potential source of ticket revenue.
I often make the drive from Washington to Hartford, where I grew up. For a stretch of I-84 East through Connecticut, the maximum legal speed is 55 mph, the minimum legal speed is 45 mph, and, this being New England, everyone is driving 85 mph. Those speed limit signs, which sanction only a narrow slice of the speedometer, demonstrate government overreach better than anything I’ve seen. There’s something heartening about opening the windows and hurtling down the highway with my fellow scofflaws, utterly indifferent to attempts at control. At least until the reds and blues start flashing.
If government can’t always shove us effectively, it at least has to nudge, lest David Brooks’s life start to feel hollow. I used to date a girl who lived north of Baltimore and would venture up into O’Malley Land about once a week. In addition to the sagacious but unending exhortations to buckle up and put down the cell phone, Maryland has also erected several signs above I-95 to broadcast helpful messages to its captive audience. One Saturday, every one of the signs, which are spaced at roughly 10-mile intervals, instructed us to “Safe a Life—Check Smoke Detector Batteries.” After the second of these, I started looking to see if any cars suddenly peeled across the highway towards the nearest exit. Honey, we need to turn around! I bought that 9-volt two years ago!
The libertarian solution to our traffic problems is the same as the libertarian solution to everything: privatize, privatize, and then, once you’re done, privatize. This seems a little kooky and impractical as far as our interstates go, but I’ll say this: I’d rather a road sign advertise Mountain Dew than remind me to clean the lint out of my dryer screen.
Perhaps one day (hopefully not when my apartment goes up in flames), I’ll appreciate the value of all this scolding. Until then, it’s all very annoying. Keeping the speedometer needle on the left side seems counterproductive if my blood pressure needle is on the right side. And for that, I think I at least deserve subsidized co-pays.