By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
I think the Fluoride in the water has done its thing…
Almost every time I go out, I come up on a car that’s 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. They’ll 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.
Slowing for the curves.
I wouldn’t mind these people so much if they’d 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 them.
And it seems to me the problem is getting worse. Maybe it’s because there are more really old people on the road. America is graying; her reflexes and vision declining. Or maybe it’s 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.
My generation (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 politician’s 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 –fair — reason.
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 1985.
The younger 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 it’s a Great Leap Forward to be able to go 65 today. They can’t remember the “Drive 55” era — and the era before it, when speeds were much higher and it worked just fine — so they don’t see the absurdity of the situation today.
Plus, they grew up in a video game word, 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.
But mainly, it’s 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 can’t.
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.
But today, the driver of that chromed-out SUV up ahead is oblivious to the traffic behind it. The conversation the driver’s having on her cell phone is much more engaging than paying attention to the road.
Or the rearview mirror.