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BWare’s commentary on the Law of Polite Speed and corollary

The speed limit in Utah and Colorado is 80 miles per hour. This is about 130 kph. For reference, the default speed in most of Europe seems to be about 120 kph, or 75 mph. Default! Most people seem to drive about 130 (80 mph), and no one seems to be too put out by 140 kph (87 kph). This is largely on two-lane freeways, not unlike the worst parts of the I-15 between LA and LV, or most of I-70.

We can do the experiment of extending this to ridiculousness, because the Germans have [1]. No speed limit in some sections. Average traffic moves at about 140, trucks and punters alike, and the fast lane is kept clear for the drivers cruising at 160-220 kph. That’s around 100 mph in real numbers, folks. Sustained speeds. Two-lanes. Shared with trucks.

And what do you know, in both Utah and Germany, slower traffic keeps right. People pass, and pull back over. Passing cars don’t get upset if a truck pulls out and slows them down, and passing cars don’t block cars in the right lane behind slower trucks. They let them pull out and maintain speed, at cost to their own. Whaddaya know, people are polite. Most people seem to drive between 80-85 mph, and the passing lane is reserved for those going 90 mph.

But drop the limit to 70, as it is in California, and it’s mayhem. It’s often faster to stay in the “slow” lanes than it is in the passing lane. Faster traffic still moves at 90 mph, and slower at 75 mph. But more people think it’s their god-given right to park in the passing lane at whatever speed they want, whether it’s the limit, or whatever cushion they deem appropriate for themselves and now others. More speed-moralism, enforced by pairs of cars going the same speed for miles and miles in parallel lanes. So there’s more lane-changing, and passing on the right, and angry fingers.

These are the same drivers who were perfectly polite and law-abiding over the border in Utah, following the big signs that said “SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT”.

There’s some moral calculus there between that law and the unwritten law that says Thou Shalt Not Suffer Others To Go More Than 10 MPH Faster Than the Official Limit.

Therefore BWare’s Law of Polite Speed:

The higher the speed limit, the more polite the drivers.

Something about bopping along at high speeds focuses one’s attention, and makes one more polite to other drivers. Something something armed society polite society.

But it’s a well-known fact that people ignore speed limits and drive the speed that they feel is safe. So the only difference between sections of road where things are sane and the law of slower traffic keep right is followed, and those where the passing lane is clogged, is the posted speed limit. Thus the corollary:

The higher the difference between the actual speed and the posted speed, the more rude the drivers.


[1] Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not perfect. Or as I found out recently the German word for “construction” is “autobahn.”

I’m not talking about whether it’s perfect or not – I’m talking about the effect it has on drivers and their attitudes.