How efficiently – or not – do the number of cars pass through the available network of roads?
U.S. highways (and especially secondary roads) have terrible throughput. The roads are stop-and-go congealed; getting anywhere seems to take forever. Or rather, longer than it ought to.
Because – in general – American drivers are terrible.
Lazy, oblivious, often poorly skilled. Above all, they are slow. As if in a daze. They’ll pull out right in front of you – then creep forward like a glacial ice sheet – and expect you to brake to accommodate them. If you have to slam on your brakes to avoid rear-ending them, you must have been “speeding” and should “slow down.” They are indifferent to the line of cars stacking up behind them. It never occurs to them to pull off onto the shoulder. (What’s their hurry? They should have left sooner!) When they pass – if they even make the attempt – they do so cruise control-style, just barely going faster than the car they are attempting to pass. This requires lots of time – and road. Which is why legal passing zones have been disappearing (have you noticed?)
All it takes is one such driver to gum up the throughput of a given road – as by pulling out at a snail’s pace in front of traffic moving much faster, forcing the others cars to brake and thereby interrupting the flow. Other examples include leaving ridiculous gaps between one’s car and the car ahead when stopped at a signaled intersection (such as a left turn lane) and then dawdling for a moment or three after the green light comes on – thereby assuring that only three or four cars (instead of five or six) can clear the light before it goes red again.
It was not always this way, but since the ’80s – the dawn of the Safety Cult – it has become this way. For a generation now at least, American drivers have been taught – hectored – to be passive, timid, slow-reacting, slow-moving drivers. And above all, to regard acceleration as the ultimate evil.
To emulate, in other words, the driving style of a glaucomic old lady.
Hence the throughput problem.
It is no different than the problem you’d encounter at an old folks’ home. Ever been to one? Try getting to the third floor via the elevator. They’re set up to move really slowly – so as not to unsettle the old people – and when the doors do finally open, you have to wait patiently for the old folks to shuffle out and in. This can’t be helped, of course. They’re old people. But if you’re not old, is there anything wrong with briskly taking the stairs to the third floor? Should you be required to shuffle along at the old folk’s pace, too?
Why is everything set up to accommodate – to encourage – the feeblest sort of driving?
In Germany – which has more cars and fewer roads – throughput is much better. You get where you’re going more quickly – and much less stressfully – because in Germany, more is expected of drivers. Who are expected to not drive like glaucomic old ladies.
German drivers do not wait a few moments after the light turns green before they begin to accelerate. They do not – like most American drivers – creep forward, gradually building speed as if they were nursing a broken down old car on the verge of overheating or with a slipping transmission.
When the light goes green, they go.
You are expected to pay attention.
When German drivers overtake a slower-moving car, they do not do so cruise control (that is, American) style. They move briskly around the car they’re passing, then move briskly back into the right lane. It is over in seconds rather than minutes. In Germany, broken yellow – lawful passing zones – are the rule rather than the exception.
Because German drivers are expected to know how to pass.
Also, to accept being passed.
German drivers – unlike American drivers – scan their rearview mirrors and anticipate the need to move over to the right. They do so before an overtaking car is forced to slow down (because they’re still in the way, as here). Similarly, when German drivers merge with traffic, they do so in such a way as to not interrupt the flow of the traffic they are merging with. They bring their car up to speed rapidly – and (when necessary) increase their speed to faster than the traffic they’re merging with, so as to use that speed to slot in smoothly with traffic without forcing the traffic to slow to accommodate them.
German drivers, in sum, do not use their vehicles to block other people’s vehicles.
This is why Germany can have high-speed Autobahns, where 70 MPH SmartCars can coexist safely with Porsche 911 turbos on cruise control at 135.
It is why throughput is better over there than it is here, even though traffic is denser in Germany.
But by American standards, German drivers are “aggressive.”
What’s not only legal – but encouraged (taught) over there would get you a “reckless driving” citation here.
For example: You roll up behind an old coot doing 47 in a 55 – with 55 being about 10 MPH below the prevailing speed of traffic. Up ahead, there’s a short straight stretch, just enough road – and time – to execute a quick, safe pass. You floor the accelerator, briefly hitting 76, then slot back over to the right after having passed the old lady. You have just committed statutory “reckless” driving (anything in excess of 20 MPH over the posted speed limit being defined as such in several states) notwithstanding the fact that the sooner the pass is done with, the safer the pass.
By law, you are supposed to not exceed the posted speed limit – ever. Even when passing. How much more time – and space – do you need to pass an old lady doing 47 when you’re limited to going no more than 7 MPH faster than the old lady’s driving?
Hence, people have given up trying to pass.
They risk their safety – if they attempt to pass lawfully. Or they risk the law if they attempt to pass safely.
In Germany, slow-motion passing would get you a ticket – perhaps even for reckless driving. Because it’s actually reckless to pass that way.
Over here, it’s the reverse.
Hence, the throughput problem.
A passive (“defensive”) herd that just moseys along, moo moo moo!
If this were “safe” (as the Clovers among us believe) one might groan and bear it. But the reality is that it’s not safe. Passivity and inattention are very dangerous indeed. It is no accident, so to speak, that the U.S. highway fatality rate is higher (per VMT) than it is in Germany, notwithstanding “aggressive” German driving (at much higher speeds).
Americans increasingly don’t – and so, can’t.
Hence the glaucomic, “defensive” driving model.
Hence, sclerotic throughput.
This won’t change until the cataracts come off and people are once again expected to know how to drive.
Don’t hold your breath.
If you value independent media, please support independent media. We depend on you to keep the wheels turning!
Our donate button is here.
If you prefer to avoid PayPal, our mailing address is:
721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079
PS: EPautos stickers are free to those who sign up for a $5 or more monthly recurring donation to support EPautos, or for a one-time donation of $10 or more. (Please be sure to tell us you want a sticker – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)