That Day I Drove The Speed Limit

Jan 18 · 8 min read

And other horror stories

I drive fast.

My philosophy around driving is that the conditions will dictate my speed. It’s kind of like a Zen Buddhist’s approach to driving; I drive in the moment.

I don’t tailgate. I don’t cut-out other drivers. I’m not a driver that weaves in-and-out. And I don’t text-and-drive. I drive being aware of my surroundings. That means if other traffic exists, I will drive whatever the traffic is dictating, not what a sign says. Speed limits are merely suggestions. If there isn’t traffic, I drive what I feel myself, the vehicle, and the road is dictating, not what a sign says. But if police are present, I will drive what the police dictates.

Now, before everyone lectures me about the dangers of driving faster than the posted speed limit, please understand that most people drive faster than the posted speed limit — I know, a policeman once told me. There’s a very interesting article on the science behind speed limits. I can’t say it supports driving faster, but it does dispell the myth that driving slower is safer.

In any case, as a personal challege, I decided to drive the speed limit for one day. It turned out to one of the scariest days in my life.

Preparation

As with most controlled experiments, I summarized measurement criteria and working theories for the expected outcome. What did I want to solve or answer?

Problem Statement/Question:

Will driving faster than the stated speed limit decrease the overall travel time by any substantive percentage?

So now that I had an intended problem statement, I can derive a method to measure and test. First, I needed baselines.

To get the baselines, I performed an analysis of my daily commute. I would drive my daily commute to and from the office, going my usual speed. I gathered factors that I felt were pertinent to the experiment. I created a spreadsheet to track the overall commute duration. And noted any stops that I may have made as well as describing the general weather conditions.

For one week, the average duration for my morning commute was 42.24 minutes. For 41 miles I had an average speed of ~58MPH. On Thursday I stopped for gas, which shows the overall increase in duration. If the dataset were larger, I would have used a standard deviation. But the outlier wasn’t significant enough to affect the overall results, I calculated the refuel stop as part of the overall dataset.

For a variety of reasons, the evening commute is usually longer than the morning commute. The week that I baseline tested, I averaged the evening commute duration to be 56 minutes, with an average speed of just under 44MPH.

I felt pretty confident that my dataset was representative of my daily commute. Now it was time to put into execute on the plan.

Plan

First the ground rules:

• Departure time
The departure time should be within a reasonable time to the other days, leaving within a window of a few minutes of my usual departure time, which was to leave at ~7:00am and leave the office around 5:00pm.
• Route
The route is the same as I did during the baseline tests.
• Vehicle
The car should have all major functions operational:
- Functioning Speedometer
- Brakes
- Functioning cruise-control
- Working lights and wipers
• Fuel
Make sure I have enough fuel for the day.

Rules

As with all controlled experiments, none is complete without a predetermined set of conditions. I set the following rules:

1. I must be aware of the speed limit on each road that I will be traveling on.
2. I must not exceed the stated speed limit.
3. I cannot overtake another vehicle.
4. Should an emergency occur during the day, such as a car accident, a fire, a late meeting, significant weather event, or anything that would require a significant deviation from the intended route and plan, the experiment is ruled invalid. In such cases, I would plan for the upcoming week.

Day of Reckoning

When I awoke that morning, the coffee was strong and my confidence level was pretty high. I felt that I had planned well and had a solid footing for a positive outcome. I made sure that I didn’t have any distractions. And I thought that I was physically and mentally prepared for what lay ahead.

Hint: I wasn’t.

To make sure everything goes smoothly, I prepped the car a couple minutes earlier than my stated departure time to make sure the car was operating correctly and engage the cruise control. The cruise control will be the primary device to ensure accuracy and to make certain that I cannot deviate from the intended objective.

Off we go.

The early stage of my commute is mostly spent on suburban streets. That means stop signs, lights, and suburban drivers who are busy doing everything else except driving. For the most part, for this leg of the commute, the posted speed limit is 25 MPH.

Hint: 25 MPH is bloody hard to drive.

Seriously. At 25MPH everyone is up your ass. It didn’t matter where I was — everyone was up my ass. At one point, I had an irate minivan driver who was aggressively gesturing for me to increase my speed so much so that I thought that she would come through her windshield. Then there was a senior citizen, who was using more aggressive gesturing. From what I could tell, he was just randomly angry and shaking his fists and bouncing in his seat. And Mr. Mustang man was so exacerbated that he ended up passing me on a single road, flipping me the bird, and sped up to the next stop sign.

When I turned onto a two-lane road, mini-highway, the real fun began. This This road has a posted 50MPH speed limit and I only expected to be on this road for less than a couple miles. So I set my cruise accordingly and situated myself into the right-lane. Within a moment, the person behind me, was freaking out. With no one in front of me, I was going the speed limit. Except the guy in the Tahoe riding my bumper wasn’t having any of that. He was so close to my bumper that I couldn’t see his bumper in my rear-view mirror. After less than 2 minutes, he had enough and wedged his way in the the left lane traffic and passed me. While passing me, he gave me the finger.

A couple other drivers repeated what Mr. Tahoe did. Tailgated me, passed me, and gave me the finger.

As I approached the three-lane turnpike, I positioned myself in the right-most lane and set the cruise-control for the posted speed limit; which was 70MPH. My logical-self theorized that if the other drivers had 2 other lanes to choose from, I would be safe by driving the speed limit.

Wrong.

Super wrong.

I quickly became accustomed to watching through my rear-view mirror, the cars and SUVs lunging towards my rear bumper at a high rate of speed. But nothing gets your heart pumping more than seeing an 18-Wheeler approaching your bumper and blocking your rear window with a huge grill. For a moment, I thought that I could smell their brake dust. It took all of my willpower to not increase my speed to allow for extra distance. But I stayed true to the mission and got in touch with my Italian driving rules and stopped looking in my rear-view mirror.

Results

Average speed for morning commute was ~50MPH with the evening commute coming in at ~40MPH.

Lessons Learned

1: It’s scary, really scary. I’ve owned a Mini and hydroplaned through snowstorms and downpours for years. I’ve owned rear-wheel drive BMWs and white-knuckeled my way through weather. But driving the speed limit was by far the scariest driving experience I’ve ever experience. Humans are more frightening than weather.

2: Most drivers are the same. I saw no difference between race, gender, or age. Everyone seemed pissed at me for driving the speed limit.

3: People are angry drivers. I counted 13 separate drivers (and 1 passenger) who gave me the finger. There may have been others, but since I have to focus on the road, I was certain that 13 people gave me the finger.

4: The overall time saved (~7 minutes in the morning commute and 5 minutes for the evening commute) would not convince me to drive slower.

5: Safety. I was convinced that if I drove the speed limit I would become involved in an accident.

6: For as much as I think that I’ve lost all semblance of patience, I actually have some. I found that I can wait while driving. I found that I have self-control.

7: You take your life into your own hands when you decide to do something stupid and drive the speed limit.

I wish that I could say that this experiment changed my behavior while driving. I wish that I could report that people aren’t awful humans when they get behind the wheel of an automobile. But alas, that simply isn’t true. People just suck when they get behind the wheel. And if I learned one thing, it was that I am one of those people.

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