The Age-Old Question Answered: Yes, Driving Slowly Can Be Dangerous
Slow driving – the bane of modern civilization.
I went to college up in the mountains of beautiful Boone, North Carolina. If you haven’t been, then you really ought to do yourself a favor and head up that way for a weekend. Probably go during the summer months to start out; those mountain winters are no joke.
Anyhow, driving in Boone can get a little bit nerve-wracking. See, those mountain roads are curvy and steep under the best of circumstances, and when bad weather like ice and snow is factored in, traveling can become very difficult and even dangerous.
But believe it or not, summertime actually might be the most dangerous time to drive in the Boone area. Why, you ask? Well, summertime is when you find the highest concentration of tourists up there. Many of those folks are elderly, maybe most, and very few of them have a solid command of the local traffic patterns. It isn’t at all uncommon to see a car with Florida plates run a red light, or to see a driver make an abrupt and un-signaled lane change as they realize they’re about to miss their turn.
But the worst part (and I promise I’m rounding in on a point here) is the slow, slow driving that plagues the High Country during the warmer months. I have many distinct memories of rounding a curve on 321 North and almost colliding with a car going 35 in the passing lane; I even remember one time where I came around a blind turn on the Blue Ridge Parkway and almost hit a car that might have been doing ten miles per hour. The driver was admiring a panoramic view of the Smokies from the comfort of his driver’s seat, and it was sheer blind luck that I was able to stop in time to avoid a collision.
Now, this phenomenon of slow driving is by no means limited to the mountains, or even North Carolina, or even the continental United States. Anyone who’s driven for more than a couple weeks has experienced the blinding rage of getting stuck behind a car going below the speed limit in the passing lane. If you’re really lucky, maybe you’ve witnessed the four-leaf clover of the driving world; a police car using the flashing blues to get a driver out of the fast lane.
So is slow driving just an aggravation, or is it outright dangerous?
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that slow driving can be a serious hazard, both to the driver and to others on the road. Using the classic example, if a driver is moving slowly in the passing lane, anyone trying to get by them will have to merge over to the right. That’s a dangerous maneuver, especially in heavy traffic, and it seriously ups the chances of a collision.
Other trouble spots will emerge when blind turns or low visibility conditions are involved; coming up on a slow driver on a foggy day, for instance, can present the approaching driver with a very limited opportunity to slow or otherwise avoid the accident.
Why do people drive slowly, anyway?
There can be any number of reasons why folks choose to drive slowly, but some of the more common culprits are as follows:
1. Weather. If you’re in heavy rain, snow, fog, or the like, it’s highly likely that you’ll encounter people driving slow. This is a situation where reducing your speed is a good idea as it’s obviously critical that you be able to see what’s in front of you. Hopefully slow drivers in these scenarios will use their hazard lights to alert people behind them, but ultimately it’s the approaching driver’s responsibility to exercise the appropriate measures to avoid a collision.
2. New Drivers. New drivers tend to be lacking in both confidence and familiarity with roadway etiquette. As a result, it isn’t uncommon to see teen drivers driving slowly and committing various other driving faux pas such as hanging out in the passing lane.
3. Old Drivers. While being as politically correct as possible, it’s impossible to have this conversation without acknowledging that yes, a disproportionate number of elderly drivers tend to be guilty of driving below the speed limit. This is likely motivated more than anything by an abundance of caution, which we should all exercise, but it still bears looking out for.
4. Distracted Drivers. This one is far less forgivable than anything we’ve discussed so far. If you’re driving, then driving should be your only priority. Behind the wheel is not the appropriate place to text, apply makeup, or Lord forbid, read your book. My wife and I were traveling just last weekend and noticed a gentleman writing on a legal pad that he had perched on his steering wheel while he was driving down I-40 West. Like it or not, though, I can rant until my face turns blue and it probably won’t change anything. That makes it all the more important for undistracted drivers to be on the lookout.
5. Tourists. Folks from out of town probably will not be familiar with where they are or where they’re trying to go, and when you’re looking for your turn you’re probably going to drive slowly. This isn’t ideal for the rest of the people on the road, but it’s a reality of driving.
What can I do to mitigate the risk?
First, don’t be a slow driver yourself if you can avoid doing so. Travel as close to the speed limit as you can, with the flow of traffic, and stay out of the passing lane if you aren’t passing another car. Easy peasy.
Secondly, and for a million reasons aside from avoiding slow drivers, drive defensively. That means (i) assuming that any car around you can suddenly do something inexplicable at any moment, and (ii) being prepared to react in a safe and circumspect way. It also means driving conservatively, without making any reckless or dangerous maneuvers like speeding, tailgating, or swerving back and forth between lanes.
I hope this helps. Call or email with questions!