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?

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