Some years ago a preacher on Lookout Mountain, right after he had experienced some unchristian thoughts while following a flatland tourist who was driving agonizingly slow up the mountain, devoted an entire sermon to the 27th verse of the Bible’s Book of Genesis. He claimed God’s word extols us to "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it! Be masters over the fish in the ocean, the birds that fly, and every living thing that crawls on the earth!"
On Wednesday the Georgia Legislature joined the chorus of those who would be masterful over things that crawl with a ringing approval of House Bill 459. In a vote that was a landslide, 162-9, the “Slow Poke Bill” would call for drivers who lollygag in the left lane on interstates and other four-lane highways to be ticketed for holding up traffic.
As a driver who admits “a need for speed,” I adore the effort but it is fraught with problems. First, a police officer would have to witness the ill-mannered dolt and it has been my experience that when a police cruiser is spotted by most motorists, they instinctively slow down. The officer must also be able to apprehend the trouble-maker and there is usually already a line of traffic trying to maneuver past.
The more vexing problem is that the posted speed limit hardly applies to real-time traffic; most of I-75 to Atlanta is posted at 70 MPH and if a law-abiding citizen goes 70 in the left lane, there is a chance they will promptly be run over. Typical left-laners consistently use the “eight-plus rule,” which holds the theory that the state highway patrol isn’t going to nab you unless the radar gun catches a driver in excess of 10 miles an hour.
Down around Calhoun this does not apply, particularly with the Gordon County pariahs gleaning “the super slab,” and the newest tool being used by men who would profit from another’s misfortune are orange barrels – speeding in a construction zone doubles the loot. (DeKalb County in Alabama – the Fort Payne area on I-59 -- is using the orange-barrel trick like crazy right now.)
There is also the famed “Signal Mountain trick.” For years the Town of Signal Mountain was believed to juggle the speed limit on Highway 127 going through the town towards Sequatchie County. By raising and lowering the posted speeds by 5 miles an hour, it was a delightful way to prey on drivers crossing the mountain because rarely does a driver read every speed-limit sign.
Cobb County, which includes Marietta, became a leader in speeding-ticket income by craftily dropping the I-75 speed limit to 65, which throws the “eight-plus rule” into immediate havoc when a guy has been going 77 or 78 and doesn’t suspect the trap. Cobb County is famous among the heavy-footed who drive through Georgia and remember, too, Georgia has the “Super Speeder” bonus, which adds $200 to the cost of any ticket over 75 on two-lane highways and over 85 on roads four-lanes or wider.
Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) sponsored the “Slow Poke Bill,” saying, “My reason for doing this is more for an educational opportunity for people who don’t understand you are not supposed to ride 55, 60 mph in that left lane when you’ve got 15, 16, 17 people lined up behind you.”
Rep. Hitchens, very rightly, called slow drivers “the spark that ignites road rage” The way to avoid road rage is simple: Drive in the right lane as a habit, using only the left lane to pass. In many European countries this is a law and, on Germany’s Autobahn, if a slower car is hit from behind in the left lane, the accident is automatically the slower car’s fault.
There are now 14 states that have raised speed limits to 75 or higher on rural interstates. Idaho and Wyoming both have bills in their legislatures to raise speed limits to 80 while Florida is trying to get to 75. Earlier this month the Georgia legislature passed a bill that would raise the interstate speed in urban areas from 55 to 70.
According to the National Motorists Association, federal and state studies have consistently shown that the drivers most likely to get into accidents – get this – are the ones going less than the average speed. In other words, research shows a person going 10 miles an hour slower than the average speed is more likely to cause an accident than a driver going 10 miles an hour faster than everybody else.
Remember, the solution is simple: Drive in the right lane unless you want to pass. Then get back in the right lane.