Thursday, September 27, 2007

Speeding...or just going with the flow?

An interesting post came up in the forums on concerning gas prices. The poster was responding to an earlier comment from a Chicago area commuter who said he traveled at or slightly below the speed limit, mostly on 4-lane roads, on his drive to work. Others however drive like crazy only for him to catch up with them at the next red light -- the all-too-familiar "hurry up and wait" syndrome.

Here is the response to the commuter:

I'm not advocating that a person drive like a madman. I'm simply saying that if you drive at exactly the speed limit or a couple miles below on a road where traffic can't pass you then you are going to p___ people off. I've driven throughout most of this country and, for whatever reason, I've noticed that everywhere our speed limits are set artificially low. I've noticed that most people deal with this by driving around 6-9 mph over the limit, which is typically below what will put them at risk of a speeding ticket. Let's say the limit is 55 mph and you choose to drive 54 and have a bunch of people stacked up behind you that would otherwise be driving 63 mph. Would these people behind you really be saving all that much time? Probably not. Guess what, you're not saving all that much money [on gas].

My experience is the opposite of yours. I routinely drive a route that has a 12 mile stretch of road where it is almost impossible to pass. The posted limit is 50 mph but it is safe to travel considerably faster than that. Until a few years ago the predominant speed on this section of road was 60 mph, [but] it is now 50 mph. When you finally get to the end where there is room to pass you typically have 20+ drivers behind one guy that felt he was justified in imposing his will on everyone else.

I don't care if a person wants to drive slower to save a few bucks on gas. Just don't disrupt the flow of traffic.

I am especially amused by his saying, "for whatever reason, I've noticed that everywhere our speed limits are set artificially low." And my response would be, "in whose opinion?"

Well, I can tell you in Michigan that the speed limits aren't artificially low. Cars are allowed to go 70 mph on the metro Detroit freeways, and even major roads in the area with traffic lights like Telegraph Road have a 50 mph speed limit.

Most states west of the Mississippi have rural interstate speed limits of 75 mph for passenger vehicles. In Nevada, you can go 70 mph on the rural 2-lanes. On busy city streets in Los Angeles, the speed limit is 35. New Mexico allows 70 mph on undivided 4-lane US 550 (with conventional intersections even). The blanket speed limit in Manhattan is 30 mph. Certainly fast enough in all cases. I wonder if people driving on the parts of I-10 and I-20 in Texas that are now posted at 80 mph are complaining this speed limit is "artificially low" and bump it up to 86 to 89 mph.

If I'm "disrupting" someone's progress on a 2-lane road (one lane in each direction) by going the speed limit, my response is "too bad." However, I will encourage following drivers to pass me, if legal. If someone gets really obnoxious, like flashing his lights, flapping his arms, or getting so close I can't see his headlights, then I'll find a safe place to pull over. Or I wave them around in a legal passing zone. Funny thing, some of these people WON'T pass when you wave them around! Do they think I'm bluffing or somehow misleading them into a head-on crash?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Running with the big dogs

This photo was taken on I-275 southbound near Detroit. Lots of tractor-trailers were present on this highway on a weekday evening. The top speed limit in Michigan for cars is 70 mph, surprisingly allowed even on this roadway in the Detroit suburbs. Michigan however has a lower maximum speed limit for trucks: 60 mph. Ohio and Indiana also have split speed limits on their rural interstates. I like this idea: Even though the trucks generally do go faster than their speed limit, they generally do not travel at 70 mph, which makes it easier for cars to get around the trucks. Also on highways with 3 or more lanes in the same direction, trucks are not allowed in the far left lane. The situation pictured above was a little dicey, because there was essentially no left shoulder, but rather only a high Jersey barrier dividing the opposing roadways. Still, we got through with no difficulties.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Highway safety...1950s style!

This billboard was spotted along US Route 250 near Dennison in the eastern part of Ohio. This is a real throwback to the 50s when we exhorted drivers to do the right thing and drive safely. Back then, scientific analysis of the causes of crashes, deaths, and injuries on US highways was in its infancy, and most popular messages were directed toward the driver. Now, we have a more enlightened viewpoint, and we know that it’s very hard to persuade or otherwise “educate” drivers not to crash. We take a much more balanced approach, exemplified by the “Haddon Matrix,” developed by William Haddon, Jr, MD, the first administrator of what became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The Haddon Matrix considers all factors before, during, and after a crash: human (the driver, cyclist, or pedestrian), vehicular, and environmental (the road and roadside). For example, daytime running lights added to a vehicle can make it more visible before a potential crash, reducing the possibility of a crash with another vehicle in the first place. During a crash, built-in safety features in the car such as airbags can greatly reduce the possibility of death or injury. And prompt response by trained paramedics after the crash can further improve the chances of survival and recovery. Today, we practice this much more balanced approach to highway safety. Sadly however, not all measures that we know to be effective, such as mandatory motorcycle helmet use laws, are in place because of political pressure.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Monster trucks...Michigan style!

Michigan allows the heaviest trucks in the US on its highways. Most states set a maximum gross weight for tractor-trailers of 80,000 pounds (40 tons), but Michigan allows trucks weighing up to 164,000 pounds (82 tons)! As you can see from this photo, taken on I-275 near Detroit, such tractor-trailers have as many as 11 axles, with 8 of these on the trailer. When the trailer is fully loaded, all axles are lowered into contact with the road to distribute the weight over 64 wheels and tires on the trailer. (Each axle has a pair of wheels and tires on each side.) Adding in the tractor's 10 wheels and tires, you have a total of 74, the same as 18 1/2 passenger cars!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Portrait of an inconsiderate driver

You can't see his face, but here he is, southbound on I-75 just south of Toledo, Ohio. It's not an unusual story. The speed limit is 65 mph, which I was observing when I pulled into the left lane to pass at least one and possibly two tractor-trailers traveling close together. As is my custom, I always check my mirrors for fast-moving traffic approaching from behind, and if there are any vehicles closing in fast, I slow down and wait in the right lane behind the truck until they go by. Well, sometimes you miscalculate. This young guy was probably going at least 80 and got so close to my rear bumper that I couldn't see his headlights. I did speed up slightly to about 68 mph to get the pass completed sooner.

As you can see, he's driving a rusty old Toyota Corolla, not wearing a seat belt (typical), and holding the top of the steering wheel with one hand. Also, his seat back is so reclined that the head restraint would do no good in a rear-end crash. I guess he's going so fast though it's unlikely he'd be rear-ended at this point!

In case you are wondering, my wife took the photo from the passenger seat. And no, I wasn't holding up the traffic flow by going the speed limit. Large trucks in Ohio are limited to 55 mph on most Interstates. They may not go 55, but they do keep it under 65, the speed limit for cars. Most cars weren't going much faster than about 70 mph that evening.