One RVer who prides himself on safe driving had an unforgettable experience with a California Highway Patrol officer. Pulling a 28-foot fifth wheel, the RVer, who hasn’t had a traffic ticket in years, was pulled over and read the riot act by the officer for driving too slowly on a two-lane stretch of Northern California highway.
What’s better—a little faster than the speed limit? Slower than the limit? Exactly at the limit? Searching the Internet reveals this question to be one of the most debated and controversial out there. Site after site has comments declaring that those who drive slower than most of the traffic are the ones most likely to cause accidents. Some suggest getting slow drivers to pull over by flashing headlights, honking horns or gesticulating wildly.
What’s the reality? It depends who you believe. Here’s a quote from one site: “The last shred of pretense that speeding laws contribute to safety on the highways has just been tossed in the trash can of scientific balderdash. There are theories around about how driving slower gives a driver more time to stop, so fewer accidents will happen. This sounds like it might be true, like most balderdash.”
Then there’s a news release from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. Referring to Oklahoma’s death toll during the holidays, Chris West, a highway patrol captain, says, “Statistics tell us that drivers need to slow down.”
Obviously there’s deep water. To wade on in, we look at information provided by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. They report on a study called, “How Risky is It? An Assessment of the Relative Risk of Engaging in Potentially Unsafe Driving Behaviors.” Study researchers put cameras and “black boxes” in the cars of 109 drivers for 12 to 13 months and looked at what happened. During the study, 82 crashes, 761 near-crashes, and 8,295 other driving-related incidents were captured.
The greatest increase in traffic accidents was for those who either drove while drowsy, or for those who drove “significantly faster” than surrounding traffic. The increase of risk for both behaviors? The likelihood of an accident was 2.9 times higher in both cases than for those who did not speed and drove while alert.
But what about those who drive slower than surrounding traffic? Hard statistics are difficult to come by, but there’s no shortage of anecdotes from frustrated drivers who pour out their rage–much more safely than on the highway–in blogs. Driving slower than the prevailing traffic can cause hang-ups, particularly if the driver is puttering along in the “hammer lane,” on the leftmost side of the highway.
What’s to be done? The consensus is clear: If you need to drive slower than the prevailing traffic speed, stay to the right, it’s as simple as that. That’s an “easy do” if you’re rolling along a multi-lane highway or freeway. It gets a little dicier when on the two-lane roads that transect much of the country’s scenic areas. While many are there to appreciate the beauty, plenty of drivers aren’t interested in the leaves, cows, mountains, etc, but are just going from Point A to B as quickly as they can.
Where possible, PULL OVER and let the traffic pass. Keep an eye on the rear view, and when you see traffic stacking up (say three or more cars) by all means, avail yourself of a pullout.
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—a Guide to Living without Hookups and Camp Hosting USA—Your Guide to State Park Volunteering.