To Get There Sooner . . .


Recently there was an inquiry in our letters to the editor column from a reader who wanted to know, “Why can’t people drive the speed limit?” One might at first conclude from her question that she was concerned about speeders. Not so. Her complaint was that some people drive too slow to suit her and that everybody should at least drive the speed limit. She has a point. We should drive the speed limit.

I often ask the same question but with a different spin. Not only is it rare to find someone who
drives slower than the posted speed limit, the vast majority of drivers drive much faster than the
lawful limit. The unfortunate reality is that most of us are concerned with our speed only when we see an officer. Why so many of us have this compulsion to break the law puzzles me, especially when we know there is very little to be gained by speeding and a great deal to lose. Excessive speed is in fact one of the two principal causes of collisions. The other is tailgating. Let me tell you the two simple reasons why we should obey speed limits.

First, posted speed limits are set according to conditions which include the amount and nature of the traffic, the characteristics and condition of the roadway, our reaction times and other factors which only traffic safety engineers fully understand. If the experts tell us that 35 mph is the maximum safe speed for a certain segment of roadway we should believe them. That’s what we pay them for.

The other reason is even more fundamental – because speed limits are the law. If we exceed the posted limit we are lawbreakers. One would think this alone would be incentive enough to keep otherwise law abiding citizens within speed limits, especially parents whose youngsters are watching and who will surely imitate their behavior. I would like a dime for every one of my students who said, “Dad always told me I can get away with ten or twelve over the limit.” That’s breaking the law! Get away with being the operative phrase here.

Here are some gentle reminders about speed limits:

Speed limits are set for ideal conditions. When traffic, roadway or weather conditions are not
ideal, we must obey the “basic speed law” which states that we may not drive faster than is safe for existing conditions regardless of the posted speed limit. In other words if 40 mph is the safe speed for existing conditions, and we are driving faster than that, we are driving in a dangerous manner. Even though the posted speed limit may be 65 mph we can still be cited.

There is also a “minimum speed limit” which applies to some roadways such as highways and
freeways. This tells us not to drive slower than the given speed (usually 45mph) unless conditions are bad in which case we must obey the basic speed law. If we are poking along at 35 mph on the interstate, for example, we will likely get an officer’s attention because by driving this slow we are creating a danger to ourselves and others. There are also “advisory speed limits” which are set for special conditions such as sharp curves, and there are “special speed limits” which may apply during certain times of day such as in school or construction zones.

Contrary to one popular notion speed limits were not created to limit our personal freedoms. Good drivers understand that they exist to help keep us alive and well, and to bring order into our chaotic modern world of driving.

As for the reader who wondered why people can’t drive the speed limit, here’s a challenge. I
promise to not drive slower than the speed limit if you promise to not drive faster than the speed limit. If you encounter a person driving too slow to suit you, especially an older driver (I prefer to call them “grown-ups”) who’s just trying to obey the law, be understanding and patient. After all, if you don’t get killed in the meantime, that person will someday be you!

If you want to get there sooner, leave sooner.

This is not about how to drive. This is about staying alive! See you next time . . . I hope!

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