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OPINION | MICHAEL B. DOUGAN: Obey law? Meh ...

Here, personal freedom trumps all by MICHAEL B. DOUGAN SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | December 9, 2021 at 3:36 a.m.

Recently, former congressman and then-Blue Cross official Vic Snyder asked for drivers to slow down. Speeds, he reported, were up over the last two years and not just in his neighborhood. In the first six months of 2021 deaths were up significantly.

His neighborhood has no sidewalks, and kids, bikers, joggers, and Vic walking his dogs use the street. A vehicle obeying the 20-mph limit has a 5 percent change of killing or seriously injuring someone; at 30 mph, the chances rise to 45 percent.

And what about Jonesboro? In earlier days when U.S. 63 ran down Nettleton Avenue, the speed limit was 45. Now it is 35 mph, with what result? Unless there is a long line of traffic, one could wait most of the day finding someone obeying the limit. A better guess at the current average would be 55 mph. On Stadium/Red Wolf Boulevard, 70 mph is common.

Lowering the speed limit will not change behavior in Arkansas.

There is more in drivers' behavior than speed. First, many display little regard for all-way stops and frequently zoom right through them. Second, if approaching a stoplight that is about to change, even if it's red, they go right through at any available speed. They also can be found turning left out of a right-hand lane.

Now if one is indeed stopped by a light, its turning green is treated as a casual event; more important is finishing rolling a joint, grabbing the beer can, or texting. Do not ever honk at such a person unless you have a gun beside you. The vehicle behind it is likely to move just as slowly.

Hence, in Arkansas, if 10 vehicles manage to get through the light, in other parts of the United States, 25 or 30 even, moving in one solid line, would make it legally.

And there is more to it. Yellow lines are believed to be some sort of highway artwork, and your Arkansas driver will get in any lane and often stay there. On four-lane roads, frequently two often busted-up vehicles will move together at the same speed, bottling up traffic behind them. Also, Arkansas drivers don't know or care enough to signal. And of course, not all their lights work anyway. Mufflers often are removed, as the more noise, the better to display one's manhood.

Arkansas has never been partial to law enforcement, hence in 1837 it was not surprising that the Speaker of the House stabbed to death a Randolph County representative he thought had insulted him, or that back in his home county he was acquitted of murder.

Rejecting the rule of law as binding is exactly what prompted the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Personal freedom comes first, whether it be not wearing masks, not getting vaccinated, or supporting treason. It seems the Trump Republican Party rules Arkansas; even the lives of Democrats may be at risk. And this is supported by Christian groups who boast of doing nothing to deal with economic and social problems in their communities. Your personal salvation is all that matters.

Perhaps the best way to make Arkansas great again would be to legalize meth, opioids, and cocaine, and let our people do the rest.

Michael B. Dougan, Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at Arkansas State University, lives in Jonesboro.

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