On Saturday, I was in my office reading a letter from Peter H. Sawitz.
In response to my plea for obedience to "Stop" signs and the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit, Peter had responded:
"I am one of those in the 90 percent majority who, on occasion, violate speed limits and other traffic laws. My driving habits are governed by three principles: safety, courtesy and common sense. I will not obey a traffic law (or any other law) simply because it is a law. People should obey laws because these laws serve a resonable purpose, not because they are there.
"There are any number of situations where obedience to a traffic law violates common sense. One of these is coming to a full stop at a stop sign when visibility is good in all directions and when there is no traffic. (Usually this means that the stop sign is misplaced; a yield sign would be more appropriate.)
"Another example are speed limits that, while possibly appropraite for times of heavy traffic, serve no useful purpose during periods of light or no traffic.
"At any rate, all people, including you, choose the laws they obey. It is practically impossible in our society to live without violating some law that is on the books. Just think of the many laws governing gambling or sexual behavior.
"You choose to obey all traffic laws. Do not disparage those who choose to think and put principle above laws."
I do not disparage those who think, Peter; thinkers are the most likely to recognize your plan as anarchy.
Under it, each of us would be left to decide for himself whether there is a reasonable purpose to each law.
Each of us would become his own traffic engineer, authorized to decide which intersections need "Stop" signs, which can get by with "Yield" signs, and which require traffic lights. Presumably each driver would memorize what's required at each intersection, or refer to notes written on the cuff of his shirt sleeve.
For the purposes of judging what speed should be the maximum for a given roadway, traffic would be categorized as small, medium, large or extra-large, with maximum speeds permitted only during the first four of these categories.
As I finished Peter's letter, the first edition of the Sunday Post came off the presses. On the front page, Isaw a story by staff writer Tom Sherwood that said "the District of Clumbia has failed to collect at least $200,000 in parking and traffic fines over the last 15 months because more than 5,000 personal and corporate checks written to pay the fines have bounced."
An accompanying story by staff writers Judith Valente and Laura A. Kiernan took a closer look at some typical bad checks.
Some bounced because of insufficient funds -- which can be a relatively innocent offense when a deposited check takes 10 days to be credited to an account while a check written on that account is presented for payment before the ink is dry on it.
However, many of the bad checks were obviously written by people who never had any intention of paying the District government a penny. They were written on closed accounts and "No Such" accounts.Quite a few were marked, "Payment Stopped."
For example, Kam Chui Bugler of Racine, Wis., was asked about a $50 check on which her husband had stopped payment. She told our reporters, "If my husband stopped payment on the check, he probably thought the ticket was not justified."
Now isn't that a lovely system? Everybody is permitted to obey the laws that suit him and to disobey the laws that do not. And if the cops grab you, give them a bad check. Or stop payment on your check after they take the boot off your car. Nobody will ask you to make good on the check.
Does the District need revenue? Gee, I can't understand why. Since 1975, more than $30 million worth of the parking tickets issued here have not been paid. About $20 million of that amount is now considered uncollectable because it's too old. And very little is being done to collect the $10 million that can still be traced to those responsible for the violations.
When the Big Thinkers at the District Building go to work on this problem, they might want to explore three possibilities.
1. When it's time to repay the millions of dollars that the District of Columbia has borrowed from the United States Treasury and say, "Instead of cash, you fellows wouldn't prefer a few boxes of checks from motorists, would you? We have quite a nice assortment on hand."
2. If Treasury turns down Proposition 1, act haughty and tender your Visa card in payment.
3. If Treasury also turns down Proposition 2, act even haughtier. Whip out your pen and write them a bad check.