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Friday, February 20, 2015

Slow Poke Laws: "How About Just Getting Off My Bumper?"

First of all, let me establish that I live in Ohio, and today I'm discussing a law known as the Georgia "Slow Poke" law. Since I drive mainly in the Buckeye State, I am not required to follow this law in my area, but I deal with the scenario I will paint at least once or twice a week.

As I travel a long distance on a four-lane highway I often engage cruise control when I hit stretches of open road with minimum traffic. I set the cruise for the speed limit -- that is normally 60-55 mph. I am very conscious of my speed since I have had a ticket or two within the last year, and I do not want to pick up points on my license. I obey the law for good reason. I also believe in defensive driving.

Let me continue my scene. As I come upon a car in the "slow lane" that I occupy, I turn on my left blinker, check the mirrors, and prepare to pass the car ahead in order to maintain a safe distance between us. Many times as I enter the "fast lane," the car I am passing decides to speed up and play "race day" on the highway. I don't understand the logic, but I think some people just do not want another car to pass, so the driver speeds up and keeps abreast of my vehicle that is now in the left lane. I don't like the parallel situation, but it often happens.

Remember, I am running the speed limit. I do not want to exceed the limit and chance getting another citation. So, I continue driving in the passing lane aside or slightly behind the driver who just accelerated to prevent me from passing and returning to the right lane.

Usually, without fail, some other impatient driver pulls on my rear bumper -- cussing, giving me the bird, and flashing his lights. As he tailgates dangerously close to my car, I simply take my time and remain in the passing lane until Jeff Gordon Jr. to my right decides either to slow down and let me pass safely or to speed up in order to let the raging idiot off my tail.

I call this highway scene "Instantaneous Road Rage Insanity." It is caused by excessive speed. I am 64 years-old, and I don't have the reflexes of a young man anymore. I try to practice defensive driving and road courtesy, but it's all I can do to keep my blood pressure from exploding as this common occurrence develops. I believe traveling the speed limit dictates my right to be in the passing lane in such circumstances.

Well, Georgia now has the "Slow Poke" law. It requires drivers in the left lane of a four lane highway or interstate to merge into the right lane when a vehicle going faster comes up from behind -- even if they're driving at the speed limit. If they don't merge, they face a misdemeanor charge. The law is intended to reduce congestion and cut down on confrontations and road rage.

There are several provisions where drivers can remain in the left lane:

* When traffic conditions or congestion make it necessary to drive in the passing lane
* When inclement weather, obstructions, or hazards make it necessary to drive in the passing lane
* When compliance with a law of this state or with an official traffic control device makes it necessary to drive in the passing lane
* When a vehicle must be driven in the passing lane to exit or turn left
* On toll highways, when necessary to pay a toll or use a pass
* To authorized emergency vehicles engaged in official duties or
* To vehicles engaged in highway maintenance and construction operations.

Lollygagging drivers (pacing at the speed limit) face misdemeanor penalties of no more than $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison. The crime is a 3-point violation.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon, who was a state trooper for 33 years and is the former head of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, says he expects much lower penalties.

Hitchens admitted the measure would be tough to enforce. He says he pushed it more for education purposes, over concerns that irate drivers stuck behind dawdlers might spur road rage incidents or cause crashes while trying to pass.

"I don't think a lot of people understand that on multi-lane highways with traffic going in the same direction, that slower traffic is supposed to keep right," Hitchens says.

My Take

Oh, just what we need, another law that is seemingly unenforceable considering all of the provisions for legal driving in the left lane! I understand it is not the right of a slower driver to enforce the speed limit on anyone else; however, failing to follow the speed limit is one of the most common causes of traffic accidents in the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, speeding contributes to about a third of all car accidents in America. Reckless driving that most often involves speeding accounts for 33% of all deaths involving major car accidents.

In my scenario, two speeding drivers create a dangerous situation. Who in their right mind would blame a passing motorist for two other motorists' discretions? The blame should go to the following: (1) the driver who speeds up in order to stop a person from passing, and (2) the speeding driver who is in such a maniacal hurry to get to his destination that he does not keep a safe distance from the car ahead of him in the passing lane.

 Here is what the National Safety Council says:

"Speeding kills an average of 28 people per day for a total of 10,219 people a year. There is some social pressure from others who are speeding around us on the roads and changing the habit can be challenging. Slow down to save a life."

Mature, defensive drivers drive under or at the speed limit. They should not be blamed for road rage and forced to get out of the way when they don't wish to speed. Maybe Georgia troopers and safety officials should pay the fines of responsible drivers who are being ticketed and regarded as "offenders" for no good reason.

I'm sure many people in Ohio are clamoring for a law that penalizes "slow pokes," too. What a crock! I thought road manners, courtesy, and patience were virtues for good drivers. Is it any wonder teens speed when adults act as if they have no sense behind the driver's wheel? Sure, some people drive too slowly in certain conditions. But, a fine or jail time for driving the speed limit? Excuse my French, but this is fucking illogical, reverse thinking -- a law without proper warrant.

So, hey, state legislators, how about taking the cell phones out of the hands of drivers instead of worrying so much about slower drivers? Motor vehicle crashes involving cellphones are "vastly underreported" in national statistics on fatal automobile crashes, according to a new study (2013) by the National Safety Council. Even in fatal crashes where the driver admitted using a cellphone, only 50% of those crashes in 2011 were coded in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System data as involving a cellphone, NSC said.

The safety council estimates that 25% of all motor vehicle crashes involve cellphone use.

A Centers for Disease Control study analyzed 2011 data on distracted driving, including talking on a cell phone or reading or sending texts or emails behind the wheel. 69% of drivers in the United States ages 18-64 reported that they had talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed in the study.

I say drop your phone and get off of my ass when I am driving the speed limit. In my opinion, these two things would greatly improve road rage incidents and save innocent lives on our nation's highways.

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