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June 14, 2004

Civil Disobedience At 70 mph

Passed a state trooper on Interstate 40 yesterday on the way to pick up Ngnat from her grandparents. He was going about 70. I was going...71, or something close to that. Faster than he was anyway. The speed limit was 65. We, and every car and truck around us, had been sitting behind the trooper for what seemed like forever before I finally decided "the hell with it" and passed him, ever so slowly. He wants to give me a ticket for going 6 miles over the speed limit, let him. It took quite a while.

He didn't pull me.

I'd of had some words for him if he had. Not angry or spittle-inflected, but words nonetheless. His very presence on the road was endangering lives.

Why? Because practically no one has the balls to pass a cop--especially not a cop who is already driving faster than the speed limit. Normally, I don't either. The problem is that means that every trooper on the highways ends up with an ever-growing slug of traffic behind them.

A 70 mph traffic jam is bad enough, but what’s worse is that the vast majority of the drivers in it have no idea traffic is so crappy, they not being able to see the black and gray Crown Victoria at the head of the parade. All they want is to be out of it, so they begin switch lanes back and forth in an attempt to escape.

The weaving back and forth of the more impatient is in vain, as it pretty much ceases the moment the driver realizes there's a cop up there, but within the slug as a whole there are always drivers trying to work their way up. The longer the slug, the more of them there are, and the more bunched up the cars are, so lane-changing gets progressively more dangerous the longer the trooper is on the highway.

Eventually the reason for the traffic slug’s existence takes an exit, and the slug works itself out as cars return to a more natural, albeit illegal, speed. Until then, it's as much as one's life is worth just to drive in, much less maneuver through it.

We were lucky in that we hit the slug early on. I spent a half-hour or so a car length or two either directly behind or as wingman to the trooper, watching a endless succession of cars pass me on the right and left, only to see their brake light flash as they discovered the pork in the road.

30 minutes is a hell of a long time to be stuck behind a cop, though, especially once the slug started to get really bunched up.

So, partially in the interest of science, but mostly in order to rid myself of the stress of driving with cars less than a length away from the minivan in every direction except forwards, we passed the trooper. I felt like a wildebeest sauntering past a lion just for the hell of it. I could feel the eyes of the great herd behind upon us. None of them were making a move until my fate was decided one way or another.

He was talking on a cell phone. Took no notice of the minivan at all, and we moved on down the highway. Once we were a mile or so past I looked in the rearview and saw others beginning to break away.

Next time I'm doing it sooner.

Posted by Bigwig at June 14, 2004 02:34 PM | TrackBack
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He stayed on the interstate for 30 minutes?? In the same direction? At 70 mph?? Good God.

Most SHP districts are contiguous with counties, and it's rare for troopers to cross district lines except in an emergency or commuting home. I'm trying to think of where on I-40 the behavior you describe would constitute routine patrol, and I'm coming up empty.

Posted by: Lex at June 14, 2004 03:30 PM

We were with him from one side of Burlington to the new 40/85 split, where he took 40 and we took 85, about 3 minutes after we passed him.

It's possible he was on the way home.

Posted by: Bigwig at June 14, 2004 04:15 PM

Also possible that Alamance/Orange constitute a single Patrol district. It's been so long since I covered cops regularly, I can't remember.

Posted by: Lex at June 14, 2004 04:32 PM

Back in Britain, I was always told (and experience bore it out) that assuming you weren't being just plain stupid with regards to the speed limit, the best thing you could do on the motorway was pass a police car slowly... shows you have nothing to hide.

In fact, I passed a trooper on a motorcylce this morning also - he was doing about 65 in a 60 (beltline in Raleigh) and I passed him at about 70... he never even batted an eyelid. Of course, I didn't realise he was a trooper until I was next to him, and to slam on the brakes right then and there would have been an attention getter; but I think on the whole that the Highway Patrol are perfectly reasonable about things. AS long as you're not acting like an idiot and going about 30 moh over, they'll usually cut you some slack.

Posted by: oxyscot at June 14, 2004 11:15 PM

I was always under the impression that unless their lights are flashing, cops aren't allowed to go over the speed limit.

However, I will take issue with the idea that he was endangering lives. The people speeding were endangering lives by their decision to violate the law. If people can't obey the rules, maybe they shouldn't be driving.

Posted by: HokiePundit at June 15, 2004 12:50 AM

HokiePundit - Sorry but you're wrong here. Speed limits are arbitrary and generally do not help to protect lives. Each roadway section has a natural comfortable speed and this varies based on many factors - not least of which are the driver and the car. This is the speed that a driver will tend to find and maintain on his own, independent of posted limits.

If the natural speed of a road is 80 mph then there truly is no safety benefit of arbitrarily reducing this to 65. As BigWig explained in his post there can be added danger in enforcing an unnatural speed. Good driving habits like proper following distance, notification of lane change, observation of nearby vehicles, etc. will fall away as irritation at the dichotomy between apparent speed and desired speed grows.

In a perfect world an experienced driver would simply drive at the speed they are comfortable with. Roadsigns would warn of upcoming hazards and an attentive driver would adjust speed based on this information. We're not in a perfect world though and unfourtunately we do need artificial and arbitrary speed limits. We just don't have to enforce them to the point of making things less safe.

Posted by: Jim at June 15, 2004 07:17 AM

In the UK cops are instructed NOT to drive at or near the speed limit for exactly this reason. Either 20 miles below it, os as fast as needs be if chasing someone, but not on the limit for the very bunching reasons you describe.

Posted by: Tim Worstall at June 15, 2004 10:17 AM


But that's the thing: we're forced into either breaking the law or being unsafe, just so podunk towns with budget needs can soak out-of-towners. That's a pretty two-faced thing to do. Either make it 80mph and enforce that to the letter, or put "suggested speed." It's like with restaurant silverware: just because they factor in the expected cost of some punks stealing forks doesn't mean that you have the right to take your silverware with you.

Posted by: HokiePundit at June 15, 2004 06:31 PM

The cell phone at 70MPH was bad form in my opinion. But I've seen worse.

And the cop who gets stuck behind traffic that slows down and traps him behind the motorists who refuse to speed up and ease congestion is...ironic.

Posted by: Deb at June 19, 2004 01:11 PM
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