to Pass… Please
moving over to allow faster-moving traffic to get by
is a wonderful concept. But Id take it a step farther: If
youre not passing, you should not be in the left lane at all.
That, at any
rate, is the way its done in Germany and for good reason.
That reason being something called closing speed. If a Porsche
turbo doing 140 comes up on a Fiat doing 80, the Porsche either
better have excellent brakes (and its driver superior reflexes)
or the Fiat driver had better notice the headlights getting much
larger, much faster in his rearview and get the hell out
of the way in time.
To avoid such
dangerous conflicts, German drivers are taught to use the passing
lane only to pass and not to set the cruise control and zone
out, like so many American drivers unfortunately do.
why the Germans can have unlimited speed Autobahns and why
have them. At least, from a technical point of view.
system was modeled on the German Autobahn and could safely support
much higher speeds than are currently permitted. Even the national
high of 80 MPH in a few areas of Texas is absurd when put into context.
That context being, the designed-for speeds of the U.S. Interstate
system updated to reflect the advances in vehicle design
over the past 60 years.
point is 70 MPH. That is the average, routine speed of traffic envisioned
by the Interstate systems designers. Curves, lines-of-sight,
merge areas and so on were laid out on that assumption. That most
cars would be toodling along at about 70 MPH.
this is that maximum safe speeds were higher.
Pre-PC, a speed
limit was precisely that: The maximum safe speed for
the typical driver in the typical car on a given stretch of road.
A speed limit was not supposed to be synonymous with average,
cruising along speeds as they are today.
At any rate,
the point is that 60 years ago when the typical car was a
plodding behemoth with balloon whitewalls, drum brakes, a farm tractor
suspension and nothing in the way of electronic safety systems
the engineers who laid out the Interstate system deemed 70 MPH average
speeds well within the design parameters of the road and
of the cars of the era.
only recently seen speed limits go back up to about what was recommended
and posted 60 years ago.
When you factor
in the galloping advances in everything from tire design to high-capacity
four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS and passenger cabins built to withstand
impacts better than the race cars of the not-to-distant past
well, 70 (even 80) seems awfully slow.
If a 1960 Chrysler
was deemed capable of safe operation at 70 then surely a 2012 Chrysler
can handle 80 or 90 just as safely. Probably, in fact the 2012 Chrysler
is a whole lot safer at 80 or 90 than the 1960 Chrysler was at 70.
Anyone who has driven examples of both (as I have) knows this automatically.
Just for some perspective, a 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT-8 can haul itself
down to a complete stop from 60 mph in 120
feet. I could not dig up a stat for the 1960 Chrysler, but depend
on it, that car took many more feet (yards, actually) to
stop. Thats if you didnt lock up the brakes and
skid into a telephone pole.
again cars of the mid-late 50s and 60s, which
were crap compared with any modern car including the
lowliest 2012 model year economy car were regarded as being
capable of comfortably, routinely, handling 70. But were told
modern cars cant handle 80 or 90. And that even 70-ish is
pushing it. (In fact, in many states, driving 80 MPH or faster is
statutory reckless driving. Really.)
its modern drivers that cant handle 80 or 90.
who dont use their mirrors or do, but just dont
care (and absolutely wont move over). Who consider it their
American Idolwatching, Football-worshipping, god-given
right to park their car in the left lane, set the cruise control
at precisely the posted speed limit and ignore whatevers
going on behind them.
Thus, we have
the problem of speed variance.
so much that some cars are traveling at higher rates of speed; that
isnt a problem if people maintain lane discipline and
pay attention. If slower-moving drivers scan their mirrors and anticipate
the need to move over and do so before the
overtaking car is forced to jam on his brakes. Speed variance only
becomes a problem when slower-moving drivers refuse to yield, or
wait until an overtaking car is right behind them before they even
put on their signal causing faster-moving traffic to decelerate
suddenly or take evasive action to get around the slow-mover.
up and up jockeying for position is what creates the safety hazard;
not some cars moving at a higher rate of speed than others.
If the left
lane was understood to be for passing only; if American drivers
could be taught to reflexively defer to overtaking traffic rather
than viewing such as a threat to their personal space and doing
all in their power to impede it well, then our speed limits
could be real limits and we could drive faster, legally,
in 2012 than people did back in 1960.
look for it to happen anytime soon.
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
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