Monday, July 4, 2011

Slow-moving roadblocks

I covered this topic in April but I'm going to post on it again.
One of my greatest pet peeves whilst driving is slow drivers. That doesn't mean I like to speed, it means I like to make progress as traffic allows, and sometimes, traffic is idiots. If I were in law enforcement, I'd make sure that speed limits weren't "limits" but indicated the speed you're supposed to drive. How many times have you been stuck behind someone who's doing 17mph or 18mph in a 30 zone? Or in England, stuck behind someone doing 39mph on a single-lane A road? (60mph)? I'll tell you why they're doing it - for two reasons, both of which are wrong.
Firstly, they think it's safe and it patently isn't. Traffic in crossing streets will be expecting them to be doing the limit or close to it - not half of it - and that results in errors of judgement about closing speed and distance, and that leads to accidents. In addition, when people like me and everyone else get behind someone like this, we become impatient, which makes us prone to doing stupid things in order to get past and - you know - drive at the speed limit and make some progress. The worst case I've seen of this was driving up to the skiing resorts last winter when one of the uphill drivers was going so slowly that even the ski busses were overtaking him, in snow, going uphill, crossing double yellow lines to do it.

Secondly, they think it somehow saves them money. It doesn't. Modern cars are designed to be fuel efficient at two key speeds - around 30mph and around 57mph. If you're going too slow or too quick, you'll be either labouring the engine or pushing more air out of the way, both of which cost you gas mileage.

So to the police - instead of going after the easy prey and ticketing people for speeding (which by the way isn't dangerous and doesn't cause anything like the number of accidents you claim), why don't you address the more hazardous problem of people driving too slowly?

Happy independence day to my friends here in the colonies :)


Paul said...

I do a lot of traveling in the US for my job and can't agree with you more Chris.
The worst one I've seen recently? A woman doing 50 in a 65 while trying to read documents spread out on her steering wheel. So dangerous on two fronts, driving 15mph below the speed limit and being VERY distracted while driving. A complete idiot.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with you about the slow drivers, to say that fast drivers do not cause problems is spoken like someone who regularly exceeds to speed limit. I cannot switch lanes on the highway to get around the slow drivers because some idiot doing 15 over the speed limit will ride up on my tail so close that I can't even see his headlights. These people are just as dangerous. Instead of advocating only against slow drivers, why don't you advocate that everyone drives the speed limit?

Ars.Gladius said...

You can add to the list:

People who sit in the left lane at any speed and refuse to move over when a faster car is approaching. (Though the passive aggressive tailgaters are an issue as well.)

People that are incapable of accelerating to freeway speed to safely merge and insist on doing it at least 20% slower, thus screwing anyone behind them because they have caused the cars in the right lane to bunch up leaving no space to merge in and no ramp left to accelerate in to pass and merge ahead.

People the are incapable of taking a turn at anything faster than a crawl (conditions/vehicle permitting of course).

Also, the lovely, but not directly related to this post:

People who partially block the straight through lane(s) when using either the left or right turning lanes because they are incapable on moving fully into said turn lane.

People that insist on steering wide when turning (as if they were driving a bus or other large vehicle) whilst driving a normal car (where there is absolutely no need to) and crossing into your lane so that you have to take evasive action to avoid hitting them.

Chris said...

Anonymous: if you pull out to overtake and find yourself with someone that close it only means one of two things. Either you didn't look properly before pulling out and got in someone's way, or you're not going with the flow of the traffic and have become the rock in the river. I have a long blog post about this here: Traffic is like a flowing river.
I don't advocate everyone driving at the speed limit because the speed limits are set for the 1950's and we've progressed considerably since then. Speeding isn't inherently dangerous (there's a page on that on my site and a blog post coming soon) and cars and the road system are capable of dealing with proper limits. The real problem is that drivers are getting dumber and dumber because the driving tests are so idiotic that completely untrained monkeys are ending up behind the wheel. You say that my blog post was spoken like someone who regularly exceeds the speed limit. Correct - I do. Once I get out of urban areas, I travel at the speeds that I'm comfortable with, that suit the conditions of the road and traffic around me. Now before you get preachy and tell me that I'm breaking the law, yes, I know I am, but so are you and everyone else every time you drive, typically without knowing it. We're all guilty of it, and drivers who say they don't are the worst kind because all it means is they won't admit to their own mistakes. And those are the types of drivers I don't want to be around.
I'm going to damn myself here of course, but for the record, since I became a road user (because I was on a motorbike long before I got into a cage), I've been stopped for speeding exactly one time in 26 years. It was an eight-lane divided highway (basically an in-town motorway) that had an artificially low 30mph speed limit on it. The road, of course, was capable of dealing with traffic doing at least double that, but it's had it's speed limit chopped deliberately (the town council even admitted as much) because it makes it easy for the police to reach their speeding quotas.
So what does that mean? Does it mean I'm simply "getting away with it"? Or does it mean that the speeds at which I travel are so suitable that the police don't see it as speeding? In other words, even the police would see that the limits were too low?

Ars.Gladius : would you believe they actually introduced a law here that states that if you're in the outside lane and a vehicle faster than you is approaching from behind, you MUST get out of the way. It doesn't matter if they're going over the limit or not. They're trying to tackle the problem of self-righteous road-blockers sitting at the exact speed limit in the outside lane and destroying the freeway's ability to function. Of course this particular law is impossible to police so it means nothing, which is sad, because it's so much a step in the right direction.

Ars.Gladius said...

Yep, we have that regulation in my area. I was going to mention it, but was not sure how wide spread that is.

Richard Olson said...


I do not pretend to be a perfect driver, but admitting to making mistakes is different than admitting that you systematically violate the law because it doesn't apply to you. Did you ever stop to think that while you may be able to navigate a highway at higher speeds, other people might have more trouble, and so the speed limit ensures that everyone travels at a consistent speed (if people followed it)?

I am a practicing civil engineer, and I can tell you that speed limits, in 95% of cases, are set by the people who design the roadway. Either the reason for the 30mph case you describe is a very rare anomaly, or (more likely) you perceive the situation as a police conspiracy, when in fact that is not the reality.

I'm not trying to judge anyone, but I will say this - I drive the speed limit not because I feel that it is the fastest speed with which I am comfortable travelling, but because if I expect the morons who can't drive at higher speeds to follow the speed limit, then I need to set the example.

Chris said...

The road where I got caught resulted in me doing traffic school, and the officer who gave the class showed us on a map, all the streets in the city where they'd deliberately lowered the limit to induce more speeding offences. He also explained their quota system to us (there is one, don't believe otherwise), and showed us all the nooks and crannies where the police set up traps. It was very enlightening.
On the subject of the engineers setting the speed limit, I'd like to believe that's true, but in reality I have a hard time believing it. For example the new M6 toll motorway in England - essentially a straight line with six lanes and crash barriers either side. Should be a 70mph limit like the rest of the motorways in the UK but instead it's a 50mph limit and it's laced with dozens of speed cameras. It's a new road, that had cameras put on it before a single vehicle had turned a wheel. It's a moneymaker and nothing more.
Regarding breaking the law, yes, I do. I know the three things I do the most - speeding, rolling stops and not coming to a complete halt before turning right on red. The two 'stop' ones I don't do deliberately but having cut my teeth driving in Europe where almost everything is a 'yield' rather than a 'stop' it's really hard to get into the habit of stopping at an intersection where there's no other traffic and its clearly safe to roll right through it.
Now on the subject of speeding itself, for the most part it's a victimless crime (I understand that if you get into an accident where speed made the situation worse, then it is a crime with victims, but remember, speeding does not cause accidents). Yes it's a law, and yes I break that law. But in reality, out there in the real world, if every broken law resulted in penalties or jail time, nobody would be walking around freely. We'd all be locked up. The reality of the situation is that hundreds, no, thousands of laws exist that we all break every day, most of the time without knowing it or meaning to. I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying that's the way it is. I choose to travel at speeds I feel safe at, keeping my distance, observing as best I can. Having grown up riding motorbikes before driving cars, I can tell you I'm a much better judge of traffic than I would have been if I'd learned to drive in a car first. I'm not an ace driver, and I'm certainly not perfect, but I don't do distracted driving, much less drink, or drug driving. Compared to people putting on their makeup, texting, eating bowls of cereal, reading papers and chatting on their phones, I'd far sooner be accused of speeding than any of those offences.
I suppose my final point would be this: if drivers were better trained, then we could have higher legal speed limits. Look at Germany - rigorous training, rigorous laws and drivers who are intimately aware of their surroundings. That's why they have high limits, and still (in some places) no limits on the Autobahn. The sad fact is that the limits are as low as they are here because drivers are getting worse and the only way the authorities can think of to deal with it is to lower the speed limits. Driver training costs too much, and with everyone distracted by DVD players and touchscreen interfaces nowadays, it's a small wonder we still have any moving traffic at all instead of thousands of miles of burning wrecks.

Klaas said...

If everybody sticked to the rules and etiquette, speed limits wouldn't be necessary. They are just there to limit the damage if something goes wrong.

Also I find it offensive that it has become such a focus. If there was any balance in te system, we would have cameras that registered tailgating, indicator use,... All of which are far more dangerous than 'a bit of' speeding.

Personally I go crazy when people around me drive aboutthe same speed. They speed up, then slow down, next thing they hide in your blind spot, cut you up changing lanes randomly, can't stay between their lines,... Then I either speed up or slow down. While too much speed difference may be dangerous (say 30mph delta), a lack of speed difference is unsafe - talking motorway.