EVERYTHING that follows is hypothetical, but what IF it really happened?
Assume that there is a construction zone along northbound Interstate 65 beginning at mile marker 90. The speed limit changes from 70 mph to 55 mph, and accordingly, there are multiple warning signs along the way alerting drivers to what's ahead.
This is a particularly dangerous area and, thus, is guarded closely by the state patrol. Almost assuredly, speeding within the construction zone will lead to a doubled fine. Simultaneously, the highway department is running TV ads to educate drivers about the dangers of speeding in construction zones (distracted driving and impaired operation are not being emphasized).
Meanwhile, a conscientious young college student believes this to be an especially important issue for a number of appropriate reasons. To that end, she has purchased a personal radar gun and video camera to monitor the situation.
Accordingly, she sets up shop at mile marker 89 (approximately one mile south of the construction zone), whereby she covertly tracks the speed of personal vehicles passing by. The young lady doesn't track semi-trucks; the commercial trucking industry has publicly declared that it would provide rolling roadblocks to ensure that drivers never exceed the posted 55 mph speed limit.
On one such watch, she spots my bright-pink Cadillac, records my speed at 70 mph (still within the legal limit) and takes video footage of my car. She then decides to use my speed to illustrate the daily hazards of Kentucky's highways. She subsequently holds a press conference in Frankfort, Ky., drawing attention to my speed at mile marker 89.
Now, here's where things begin to get sticky. Primarily, Ms. Radar has no means to quantify my change in speed in the ensuing two miles, nor my intent to slow down. (For all she knows, I could have been moving my foot from the accelerator to the brake at the very moment I passed her check station.) Rather, the only thing that matters to her is to make an example of me in that the speed limit (ahead) is 55 mph, but I'm still traveling 70 mph.
But wait, it gets stickier yet. The young lady has set up shop at mile marker 89 because it's positioned in the parking lot of a convenience store (named "Reckless Cadillac") overlooking the interstate. As it so happens, I am part-owner of this operation and hired her as a part-time employee several months earlier.
In her off-hours, she operates from inside her car in the parking lot without any concerns about trespassing. None of that's surprising; our young advocate is connected with Helping Solutions for Unified Safety, a national activist organization supporting such tactics.
To that end, she was hired on false pretense whereby she misrepresented her intent; the sole purpose of employment was to leverage the location and ultimately capture a picture of my pink Cadillac driving 70 mph near a construction zone. After all, the name of the convenience store connotes indifference or malicious intent regarding public safety. She wants that to be known.
The stickiest part of all, though, surrounds some rocky history between her activist organization and the convenience store owners.
However, several months ago, the owners hosted a national representative from the activist group in an open forum to advance trust and dialogue. That made sense because the organization proclaims that it wants to work with store owners and drivers. However, despite efforts to improve the relationship, neither the student nor her activist group ever contacted me about my intent. Nor is there any information about my speed IN the construction zone (the point at which this really matters).
Instead, their resolve is to portray me as a menace to public safety. I'm condemned because I haven't slowed down yet before crossing into the construction zone. She believes that if 55 mph is the rule at mile marker 90, we should all be traveling that speed by mile marker 89 or some other arbitrary line where it's convenient for her to set up shop.
The only bright spot in all of this is the independent group of experts who provided enhanced context and vindicated me from many of the claims made within the videotape.
In retrospect, perhaps a different store name or some proactive public statement might have served me better? Maybe, but that only would have cast the spotlight on some other unsuspecting driver.
In the end, there's really no right answer, because the priority was never about making the state's highways safer; it was simply about generating public attention for the activist organization. Sound familiar?
*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.