Slow drivers pose danger on highways

By AARON BROM

SUN PRESS Newspapers

 

Slow drivers are dangerous.

Huh? How can someone minding their own business driving under the speed limit pose a danger to others? Just avoid them, right? In my decades of metro freeway commuting, I’ve come to observe that avoiding slow drivers is indeed dangerous and does cause crashes.

I won’t forget the time I was heading through the Lowry Hill Tunnel on Interstate 94 eastbound near downtown when I witnessed what would be the worst crash I’ve ever seen. The car in front of me attempted to change lanes just after exiting the tunnel. A car in front of him was driving much too slowly for the clear, sunny weather conditions (I’d estimate 40 mph in a 55 zone). Brakes were engaged, swerving was initiated and a pileup of sorts took place right around me. Ever hear the sound of brakes screeching and the clash of metal on metal as a big crash happens right by you? It’s unnerving to say the least.

But the thought stood with me that trying to avoid a slow driver is what caused the crash to happen in the first place.

Have you noticed that slow driving seems to be getting worse? I’m not a traffic engineer, but based on my experience, there is just something about this state and slow driving. It’s as if you cross into Minnesota and the sign says, “Welcome to Minnesota, now slow down.”

I can just hear these drivers, “I’ll drive 50 mph in a 60 mph zone if I want to! It’s my God-given right, just pass me!” Well, ok, we’ll pass you, but these drivers should please understand that when they drive under the accepted traffic speed, they are forcing other drivers to make decisions. And those decisions don’t always end so well.

Add the multitudes of distracted drivers, and the situation becomes far more severe. Which is another topic itself. Our executive editor Peggy Bakken recently wrote an editorial urging our state to ban cell phone use while driving, including hands-free devices. Studies consistently prove that distracted driving, especially texting while driving (which is illegal, thank goodness) can be as dangerous as drunken driving.

Distracted drivers are dangerous twofold, based on my slow driving argument. First, many cell-phone-using or otherwise distracted drivers are driving too slowly in the first place because they are not paying attention to the conditions around them. We’ve all seen it, someone ahead constantly tapping their brakes during free flow traffic. You ask yourself why is this person putting on the brakes? Then you get up to them and they are on the phone, or worse, looking at their phone. They’re simply paying more attention to their conversation or phone than they are driving in the first place.

So all the normal speed drivers must change lanes or brake to avoid these distracted drivers. And changing lanes and braking, in my opinion, are why the majority of freeway crashes happen in the first place.

The second reason distracted drivers are dangerous is the opposite of driving slow. Some distracted drivers might be driving too fast, or even at the speed limit, when they, too, are often forced to avoid slow drivers in front of them. Now take an already dangerous situation — changing lanes and braking — and add the distractions and that is an equation for disaster.

How can commuters be safer? It all starts with simple observations about traffic patterns. If 60 mph is the accepted speed that average drivers are driving, then know that by driving 50 mph, the slower drivers are forcing other drivers to make potentially dangerous decisions.

And by all means, all drivers should put the phone down.

 

Contact Aaron Brom at aaron.brom@ecm-inc.com

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