Slow Going

If speed kills, why are people always in such a hurry to get to the hospital? It seems to be the only time they’re in a hurry.

American drivers are marinated in the doctrine that any motorized movement, not just acceleration, that doesn’t emulate the movements of a Galapagos tortoise is necessarily dangerous. This is based on the belief that most American drivers are so inept that allowing them to drive at all is dangerous. Hence the push to get them into driverless cars.

Meanwhile, they glaciate.

The guy behind the wheel of the car ahead of you puts on his car’s turn signal. After a while, he begins to mosey over to the right. It is more like a senile drift than a turn. You could almost read at least the preamble to the Declaration of Independence in the time it takes for the lane change to be completed eventually.

As unbelievable as it may sound to the youth, to anyone under 30 today, it was once considered good form to signal and move at the same time—to complete the lane change in moments rather than minutes.

Even the signaling was quicker.

The driver controlled how many times they flashed. Once, twice — it was enough.

Most cars built since the early 2000s have taken even that freedom of action away from the driver. They automatically signal at least three and sometimes more times whenever activated to provide a kind of visual goad to go slow.

Meanwhile, the driver waits for a space to open sesame.

The blinking signal serves as a kind of pathetic plea rather than a statement of intent. It is common for a driver (the term used loosely) to just sit there, signaling. Neither increasing nor decreasing the speed to make use of any openings which exist.

Turning off the road is performed with similar palsy. The driver ahead engages the turn signal a quarter-mile before the place where he will eventually depart from the main road. You wait — and wonder. He begins to brake slowly. His speed gradually decreases until his car is almost stationary.

Only then does he begin to turn off the road.

It is not uncommon for “turning” drivers to actually stop in the middle of the road before beginning the laborious process of turning the steering wheel in the desired new direction. And then, after a suitable pause, gradually ambling off in the desired new direction.

People also take forever to stop.

They’ll crawl up to the sign and practically put the thing in Park before proceeding. It’s probably only a matter of time before they turn on their hazards at every stop sign—something many of them already do when it rains.

These visual expressions and other manifestations of the Cult of Hypercaution having become a kind of paralytic virtue to be signaled by signaling. Other examples include the coming to a halt in the middle of the road to wave a pedestrian who hasn’t got the right-of-way across the road.

This is one of the few times the brakes will be applied firmly. And without signaling.

Parking also takes forever chiefly because so many people can’t anymore. And even if the car can, it takes forever to park itself, tentatively creeping a few inches, reorienting itself, then creeping some more—not so much for “safety” but for lawyering.

It is of a piece with the self-closing/opening tailgates that open and close like a geologic epoch.

You could toast bread in the interval.

Being able to park, quickly and accurately, was once a skill expected of drivers in the same way that continence is expected of people who aren’t toddlers, oldsters or people with prostate problems. It was safer, too, because the quicker you did your business the sooner you were out of the way. Today, one slow-motion parker (or parking egressor) can bring a road to a standstill.

Once traffic is brought to a standstill, it takes forever to get going again. Might be understandable if cars were slow and it couldn’t be helped. But the slowest car made during the past ten years is quicker than the fastest cars of the past. (A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but only slightly.)

The slowest modern car is the Toyota Prius C, which needs about 11 seconds to achieve a speed of 60 miles-per-hour. One of the fastest cars of the past was the 1980 Pontiac Turbo Trans-Am, which also needed about the same 11 seconds to get to 60. Most cars of circa 1980 needed more seconds.

People moved slowly then because they had to.

Today, the average car is capable of getting to 60 in about 7 seconds, but it takes most drivers much longer to get there today. Conditioned drivers regard acceleration at more-than-Prius pace. It’s just too dangerous to accelerate fast.

It’s bizarre.

The average new or late-model car is capable of going much faster, far more safely than the cars of 1980 or even 1990. People are driving like it’s 1980, and the speed limit is still 55.

Sammy once sang about not being able to drive 55.

Today, people don’t drive at all.


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One Response to “Slow Going”

  1. David Holzman says:

    I live outside of Cambridge MA, which is the epicenter of slow driving. But as far as signaling goes, the problems I see are opposite of what Mr. Peters sees.

    On four lane roadways (not highways), people who are going to make left turns at intersections with a light often don’t signal until they are stationary, waiting to turn. This means that all the people behind them, who could have moved into the right lane, and avoided getting stuck while the left turner waits for traffic to go by.

    A lot of people also don’t signal a right turn until they’re 50 feet from the intersection, jamming on their brakes, when they could have signaled five seconds before the turn, to alert other drivers that they need to put on their brakes.