The Double Yellow Prison

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by Eric Peters

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This country is painted over with double yellow bars – a sort of rolling-ribbon prison, from which escape is not possible. Or at least, very difficult. Legal passing zones – always rare – are becoming almost nonexistent. Painted over – for no readily discernible reason.

Well, actually, there is a reason:

It’s all based on the idea that because some people are too inept to execute a quick, safe pass when the opportunity arises, no one shall pass. It does not matter that some drivers have the judgment and skill needed to perform a safe, efficient pass. They get ticketed just the same – and irrespective of the competence of their maneuvering. The ticketing cop may even admit – in court – that the driver he ticketed wasn’t proceeding recklessly; even that his pass was safe. Such considerations are irrelevant in a modern American traffic court. Legally speaking, the only relevant issue is: Did the person violate the law?

The absence of proof of any harm done, any victim (that ancient precept of common law – and long before that, of natural law) is both irrelevant and no defense. Guilty. Fine – plus costs.


Result? Log-jammed traffic almost everywhere – even in rural areas. Not so much because there are more vehicles using the road, but because it is no longer possible (legally) to pass slow-movers except in a handful of designated areas – very few and far between.

All it takes is one slow-mover to create a Clover Conga. When there are more cars around, there are more slow-movers around.

Which ends up resulting in a perpetual – inescapable – Clover Conga. (For those not hip to the usage of Clover in this context, please see here. To observe Clover in situ, see here.)

The eradication of legal passing zones – and the gimped-up legal doctrines that apply in the few remaining, such as you must never exceed the posted speeeeeeeeeed limit when passing (which makes it all-but-impossible to pass safely) have rendered the United States one giant Clover Cluster-you-know-what.

In more sensible lands, the driver is given leave to use his judgment as to when it is safe to pass – as opposed to being conditioned to obey a pigmented strip on the road as though it were a deity of some kind. Underpinning this is a premise that’s the opposite of that which governs here: The driver is assumed to be competent. More, he is expected to be competent. The competent are not throttled down to the level of the not-competent, as they are here.

Europe, though riddled with Cloverism in so many ways, is actually pretty sensible when it comes to driving – and so, also when it comes to passing zones. Virtually everywhere is a passing zone. There, the double yellow is as uncommon as the broken yellow is here.

Of course, the primary reason for that is the much higher quality of the typical European driver. Unlike here, where the quality of the typical driver is incredibly low. And it is low chiefly because it is under-developed. Or rather, because our system contrives in every way imaginable to make sure it is never developed. Teens, for example, are instructed to never exercise their own best judgment – but rather, to always obey the law. Because the law is always right! It is infallible. It is perfect.

And must be obeyed.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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