in the Far Left Lane
I think the
Fluoride in the water has done its thing
time I go out, I come up on a car thats doing either just
barely the limit and often several MPH below it. The typical offender
also likes to slow down and speed up for no apparent reason; the
concept of maintaining smooth pace escapes them. Theyll wander
across the double yellow and not just in the curves. Then
jerk the wheel to get the car back in line.
The main road
through my county in rural Virginia is US 221. This is a broad,
two-lane secondary highway with gentle curves and many long, straight
sections that sometimes run for as much as a mile or more. It is
posted 55 mph. Most of the traffic is doing 60-something.
Then you roll
up on a car not infrequently a chrome-covered SUV-o-saurus
with a 300-plus hp V-8 gimping along at 50-54 mph.
mind these people so much if theyd just pull off and let the
faster-moving traffic get by. But they just keep on going
slowly indifferent to the line of cars stacking up behind
And it seems
to me the problem is getting worse. Maybe its because there
are more really old people on the road. America is graying; her
reflexes and vision declining. Or maybe its because the up
and coming generations have been reared in an environment of subservience,
if not outright worship of the law as a moral absolute,
never to be questioned.
(Generation X) it was different. We grew up suspicious of the
law and ignored it when it seemed stupid. The old 55 mph maximum
highway speed limit, for example. That was my reality in high school
and college during the 1980s. Drive 55” was obviously a scam.
We could remember, as kids in the early 70s, when the limit
was 70–75 mph. At the stroke of a politicians pen, it became
illegal speeding to drive at the exact same speeds that
used to be legal. The claim made at the time was that the lower
speed limit was enacted to save gas yet we saw
that people were not given tickets for resource depletion. They
were given tickets for speeding and labeled as unsafe
drivers by the DMV and their insurance companies. For no good
So, we developed
our own compasses. We evaluated a situation on its merits and decided
accordingly. If it was legal (and so, presumably, safe) to drive
70 mph in 1970, surely it was still just as safe to drive the same
speed on the same road in a much more modern car in
people of today were reared in an environment of less-than-individualism.
They seem to reflexively defer to authority and the law.
As far as traffic
laws go, they have no memory of a time when highway limits were
routinely 70-75, so they think its a Great Leap Forward to
be able to go 65 today. They cant remember the Drive
55 era and the era before it, when speeds were much
higher and it worked just fine so they dont see the
absurdity of the situation today.
grew up in a video game world, with cars that are deceptively easy
to drive. Many have never experienced a car with drum
brakes at all four corners and no ABS. If you had 100 under-30s
do a road test in a 1970 F-100 pick-up with a three-on-the-tree
manual and no power steering or brakes probably two thirds of them
would be unable to even get the car moving. A good number would
be in the ditch, wheels-up, within five minutes.
its the suffocating steam of safety that has enveloped
our society like a malignant fog. People have absorbed this. They
live it. How else to explain the situation? Almost everyone is driving
around in a car that is fully capable of safely (assuming a competent
driver) running much faster than the speed limits typical on American
roads. And not just running faster. They stop well, too. Most modern
cars take half the distance to come to a complete stop relative
to a car from the 1960s when speed limits were generally
higher than they are today.
They have ABS
and traction control and a whole array of technologies that keep
them on the road even when the driver cant.
All for what,
exactly? So the driver can plod along at speeds that
would have seemed glacial back in 1966?
At least back
in 66, the bluehair (or whomever) up ahead would have pulled
off onto the shoulder to let you by.
the driver of that chromed-out SUV up ahead is oblivious to the
traffic behind it. The conversation the drivers having on
her cell phone is much more engaging than paying attention to the
Or the rearview
with permission from the National
[send him mail] is an
automotive columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
Best of Eric Peters