How “Safe” They Aren’t

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The other day, I published an article about passive passing. About how people have been conditioned to regard a safely executed fast pass as “unsafe” – and for that reason, most don’t even try to pass. Instead, they meekly follow, their pace determined by the pace of the car ahead of them, whose driver refuses to drive even the speed limit – which as everyone knows is the minimum speed for whatever the road you’re on happens to be.

If you drive slower than that, you are driving well below the speed most other cars are doing and – by doing that, you cause traffic to slow, often to a crawl. The obvious solution, of course, is to speed up to at least the speed limit and if that’s “too fast” for you, then the least you can do is take action to facilitate the passing of the traffic you’re holding up. As by briefly moving off onto the shoulder, for instance. It’s not even a minor inconvenience. But it is very considerate.

If only more people would practice such courtesy when driving, traffic would flow faster and smoother – and that would reduce the time we all have to spend in traffic as well as lessen the aggravation of it.

Instead, many just drive at their ow, solipsistically slow pace, indifferent to the way they are slowing up traffic. But as bad as that is, it is compounded when a driver behind the slow driver is too timid to pass. That makes it harder for the car behind him to pass – because he must now pass two slow-pokes. If he doesn’t pass, then it becomes three – and that often makes it impossible for the next car that rolls in behind to pass.

Sometimes, these refuse-to-passers will tailgate the slow car ahead of them. This is fascinating, given the refuse-to-passers will often say the reason they don’t pass is that it’s not “safe” for them to try – which is true, if the pass is passive. It is almost impossible to ever pass if one isn’t willing to “speed” – because of the time it otherwise takes to complete the pass and the limited (by time) opportunities to do the deed. They dread passing safely – which almost necessarily entails “speeding” – and so they squat. instead.

Often right on the bumper of the car ahead – as in the case of the video accompanying this rant.

It is arguably – no, it is absolutely – not “safe” to follow the car ahead too closely, that being defined as not leaving enough room to slow – to a stop, if need be – if the car ahead suddenly slows (or stops). As opposed to the purely hypothetical assertion that driving any faster than any speed limit, anytime and anywhere, is by definition “unsafe.”

That is absurd.

But tailgating a slow-poke you’re afraid to pass is both obnoxious and dangerous. It isn’t going to motivate the slow-poke to drive any faster. It may motivate him to drive even slower. It may motivate him to brake check you. The latter term referring to the deliberate slamming-on of the brakes so as to unsettle the driver of the car tailgating. If you end up not being able to stop in time – and end up hitting him from behind – it’ll be you that gets the ticket, the “points” on your DMV record and the bill (i.e., the premium “adjustment”) in the mail from the insurance mafia.

Wouldn’t it be better to just pass?

As by stomping on the gas?

Isn’t that what all that power (there has never been more of it) new cars come standard with is for? If you’re not going to make use of it, why bother why it? Isn’t it spectacularly stupid to spend money on an engine (and the gas to feed it) that serves no operational purpose? Is it not like building a battleship and floating the thing in a backyard pond?

At least in the once-upon-a-time, there was good reason for not passing that had nothing to do with legalities. That reason being the cars of the once-upon-a-time (this was prior to the early 2000s) often lacked the power to safely pass and for that reason it would have been actually unsafe to try, absent plenty of road – and time – to make up for the lack of scoot.

But here we are – in a time of plenty, as regards power – and many refuse to use it, even when it’s clear they’d like to.

Instead, they squat – and express their dislike of having to slow down to the pace of the Jab-addled Clover ahead of them by tailgating him.

Qualifying themselves for Cloverhood, too!

. . .

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  1. I have it all figured out. The answer is a cop car.
    Dinking around for Eric’s V8 fetish I came across a Police Interceptor Crown Vic in ugly white with 38k miles on a 2011. It still has the gumball machine, well, at least the lightbar.
    With that setup I can pass easily without fuss or drive like a clover and no one will pass me when counting cows. The turd still has the sound system and the Mister Microphone that I can command clovers, “pull over buddy”. It should have another 200,000 miles left on it with proper maintenance. It is five star safety rated on every category so jabbed zombies are of little concern.
    Another feature is the stab proof seat backs in the front and the utility tub in the trunk. The utility tub has kevlar sheathing and gobs of room for a forty gallon fuel bladder that can drain to the gas tank by gravity feed. The price difference to anything comparable allows for about seven years of fuel usage at current prices. Parts are super cheap and widely available as are wear items. Heck, you can change the interior, if wanted, with everything up to top of the line Lincolns, but I prefer the spare look.
    Tell me that you will mess with my cop car on the byroads and I will call you a liar.
    Another thing is that the Salvation Army stores sometimes have somebody’s old HS band uniform that can be had for five dollars. I am going to make a deal with some unincorporated town on a road traveled by Illinois plates to set up a speed trap that will feed me and the town that is lucky enough to get my service. I will add signs to the speed limit existing signs, a placard for minimum speeds that exempt farm equipment, but nail the clovers.
    I solicit opinion on how I might be wrong on some detail, but this seems sound to me.

    • Hi Erle,

      You found a gem. Pocket that thing! The Vic is of body-on-frame construction, has a solid rear axle and a V8 engine. These things will go half a million miles (ask a taxi driver) and are readily rebuildable along the way. They are also spacious, comfortable and get not-bad gas mileage, too.

  2. I feel it is my duty to pass even if I’m not really bothered by going a little slower personally to allow others behind to get their chance to pass.

    The other day, as I’m spinning up the transmission and accelerating just ahead of the double yellow breaking so I could pass, a jerk in a Porsche-UV jumped the double yellow and took my spot. I was nearly on the bumper of the slow vehicle when I was finally able to get in behind the Porsche-UV and let him know how I felt about their level of courtesy jumping on me when I was signalling my intent to pass. I guess some people are better than others, read the vehicle badge.

    And then there’s the guy I didn’t pass today. I thought it was the right thing not to do. Guy was on a bike. Mostly up to the speed limit, but slowing for the corners. In most situations, a motorcyclist wouldn’t have a problem negotiating that stretch of roadway at the speed limit or above using the full breadth of the travel lane, but not everyone is an experienced rider. This may be the guy’s first time through the area and doesn’t know what to expect. Who knows? I do as I always do with bikes, I keep extra distance if I’m following behind. It is one thing to rear-end a vehicle, but probably a far likelier worst feeling to run over someone so I leave space. I left enough space that if the vehicle tailgating me as I was following the biker could pass me and later then pass the motorcycle. They didn’t pass me. They just rode my tail until they got to their next turn.

    Which is a flip side of the coin rant of mine, people who pass only to slow down and turn just down the road and cause you to hit your brakes. “You’re too slow!” (not slow at all), “Now brake and wait for me to turn left!”.

  3. The only thing on the road that really pisses me off is when two or more cars “cock block” you (for lack of a better term). If it’s a one-lane, no passing zone, and you’re driving stupid-slow, sure it bugs me but hey, maybe that’s the best you can do.

    Just don’t try to stop me from passing your dumb ass. That’s all I ask.

    However, apparently it’s a thing here in Maryland that fucken idiots take pleasure in trying to prevent you from going around other cars when there are more than one lane.

    Sometimes, especially in the more rural areas, you gotta turn left (obviously) from a left lane and the point to turn is not clear. So people might not know exactly where to execute (has happened to me).

    This is why I want a car with balls. I don’t like to drive around like I’m in some idiotic hurry every second I’m on the road. But when I need that fucken thing to move, I want warp 10 (Scotty) and I want it NOW.

    • This just happened today. SUV towing a U-Haul doing about 60-65 in the right lane (PSL 75). SUV behind him cuts me off in the left lane then proceeds to match speed with the U-Hauler for over a mile. Then once it finally gets past, stays in the left lane. OK, fine I’ll pass on the right. As soon as I get right, it gets over right too. At this point I’m getting a little out of sorts so I decide to put much distance between us. It now decides to match my speed and we’re flying down the road at +15 PSL! Now it’s pretty obvious it is f***ing with me for some reason. So I extend the middle finger, slam on the brakes (after verification that I wouldn’t cause a problem) and watch it fly out in front of me. A few miles later I catch up with it again but now it’s moved on to someone else.

      • Morning, RK!

        I think I know why these road apes behave the way they do. I think they behave this way for the same reason apes in cages throw shit at the people outside the cages. The road apes are caged by the job they hate. The bad relationships. The sense of powerlessness. But in their car, they have power . . . over you. And they exert it lustily.

        • Eric, you might be on to something. I was thinking it was infantile minds, but perhaps simian brain might be the correct analysis. But one must tread carefully when calling out homosapiens as hominid in behavior.

    • Hi EM,

      Just yesterday, I was headed back home, “up the mountain.” The road there goes from a two lane each way to a single (each way). I found myself bottled in by an SUV in the left lane and a big truck in the right. I was almost able to pass the guy in the left (on the right) but the guy in the truck accelerated to prevent me. Then the road narrowed from two to one. I followed Captain Speed Limit until we got to a legal passing zone. I floored it and passed him. Whereupon he went berserk and began flashing his brights at me until I lost sight of the bastard in the rearview. I sometimes want to just stop, get out and tell these people that it’s not a smart idea to behave this way as you never know who you might be pissing off. Often these people are dumpy middle-aged or old men who are writing checks their bodies cannot cash.

      • Hi Eric

        I know someone in Mexico city that had some sort of conflict with another driver, the other driver fired bullets through my friend’s car, one went through his calf.

  4. The problem with the slow drivers you are describing, is that they are completely oblivious (and downright selfish) to everyone and everything around them except themselves. Some either have no clue, or do not care, that they have a string of vehicles behind them. In days gone by, courteous drivers would pull over, and let the line of vehicles pass. If you want to go 10-20 miles an hour under the speed limit, go for it, just do not force the rest of us to follow behind you, because you are an inconsiderate jerk. What I find ironic and funny, is that when I get a longer stretch to pass such drivers and do, it “encourages” the others who got stuck behind said slow driver-to do the same. I have to wonder…does that first car even have a clue? Probably not.

  5. I want digital readouts to display the musical score of the song I’m hearing on the radio.

    I also want more cow bell.

    I was driving the speed limit in British Columbia way up north west of Mount Robson, came upon a pickup truck moving along at a terrapin’s pace. What are you doing? You have to drive faster than that, Good Lord. Turned out to be a Washington State citizen about 90 years old, thereabouts, so the speed of the vehicle was understandable. Not everyone is capable of driving what you think they should drive.

    Maybe shouldn’t have been, the old man was getting there, northern British Columbia is one killer place to see and not soon to be forgotten.

    I’m going to drive as far as I can as long as I can thought the old codger.

    You have to give some folks an even break, the benefit of the doubt.

    • We had a family friend that drove all over the state (WA) well into his 90s. He’d pick up a pal and drive the 110 miles to say hi to us and drive us to lunch, chat for a few hours then home the same day. Cautious but not timid, and not afraid of the gas pedal. Great driving habits!

  6. More from Scotland. Here it’s even worse because the national speed limit is 60 on a two lane unless otherwise posted.
    Now my commute is only 7 miles but the number of people puttering along at 40 mph, to use a phrase “does my nut in”. And it’s 90% small cars with old folks driving.
    I’ve had to just accept it else go insane, which would be bad I suppose.
    There isn’t much opportunity to pass.
    Having a wee 3 pot, I drop from 5th to £3rd and floor it but still struggle to get past. Ah well.

  7. Yesterday, I got in behind a 16 car conga line going to Front Royal with myself holding up the tail.The lead car never got above 50 and in some places slowed to 20 on hills and gradual curves (340 is mostly that with very few flat straight sections). The second driver tailgated and refused to pass when the opportunity presented itself. Needless to say I was fuming and had to bite my tongue since the Mrs. was with me. Slow drivers SUCK!

    • > The lead car never got above 50 and in some places slowed to 20 on hills and gradual curves

      If you do that in Nevada with three or more cars behind you, you run the risk of an AGW pulling you over and ticketing you for obstructing traffic…which one might argue is an example of AGWs doing some good for a change.

      This can’t be the only state with such a law on the books…can it?

      • Oh it’s the law in WA as well, signs posted all over and ignored. “Delay …. Must use turnouts”.

        I’ve witnessed two enforcements on slowpokes, first on a two lane about 8 cars backed up. State Patrol going opposite, pulls a u turn lights and siren, we pull to the shoulder he nabbed the moron causing the holdup. The other was on I90 near the pass, it’s two lanes each way. This moron was in the left lane pacing the right lane car. Cop zips past me and lights up the left lane camper, finally some sweet justice.

      • I know Illinois and Indiana do too. But rarely enforced at least in Illinois. A reporter friend asked for ticket stats from the Illinois state police a couple years ago and they had written the grand total of, get this, five tickets for blocking traffic. The whole year.

        Guessing the average trooper writes five speeding tickets a day and has never written one for being a slow poke ever.

    • Hi Allen,

      I am familiar with that neck of the woods. I usually come into Front Royal via 522 and usually get stuck behind a tractor. I am nice to the farmers. If I can safely pass I will, but if I get behind them for a mile or two, I don’t lose my cool. I am super nice to people who are willing to feed the rest of us.

      My entertainment occurred on Route 3 East of Fredericksburg yesterday. Two lane road, driver pulls in front of me going 45 in a 55. I am going around 70. I had enough time to slow down because I could see he was going to pull out. I get stuck behind him for about a mile. I can’t pass, traffic is steady coming the other way (it is a holiday weekend) and everyone is heading to the river. There is a small Mobil station on the left and the guy literally brakes (completely stops in the middle of the road). Screeching halt. I had to slam on the brakes, veer right on the shoulder, and lay on the horn. He did receive the one finger salute. I usually don’t do that, but between cutting me off earlier, driving like a turtle, and then braking in the middle of the road he deserved it. He was also yelled at by the three high school/college kids riding with me. The rest of the voyage was uneventful, but we did stop in at Mary’s Chocolate Shop in King George and loaded up on fudge and chocolate covered potato chips. Chocolate cures most aliments and temper tantrums.

  8. I had that the other day. I could’ve passed but there were two behind the slow poke, scared to pass. I try to never tailgate, hard sometimes, but I try to never do it because usually most people do not know their car has a rearview mirror and side mirrors and a blinker. I can usually tell after driving behind someone for a short way that they are going to put their brakes on and then the blinker or maybe never use their blinker. By the time they put their blinker on, it’s useless. And you can tell that they are never looking in their rearview mirror. When you are finally able to pass it seems it’s any age group, but a lot of the time, it seems like it’s a young female and sometimes she is holding her phone a few inches away from her and talking on it. Why, why, why? If it’s that important, pull over or stay home and talk on the phone from there.
    Some of the technology in cars is great. Maybe they should’ve just stuck with improving engines, stayed with AM/FM and AC/heat, nothing else. I used to drive everywhere without GPS and so did everyone. I looked at a map and followed road signs, I always made it to the place I was going and I’m sure I still could. I will have to say GPS/maps is a nice thing, but it has made us lazy–me anyway. If it’s a long road trip I do take my atlas with me and look at it before I leave. I will write down the interstate numbers and other info just to refer to, because sometimes the little lady will confuse me, which doesn’t take much.

  9. It used to be common for a driver who preferred driving slow to pull over occasionally and let traffic pass. Haven’t seen it, or at least rarely seen it, in decades. Instead, they are incensed that you have the audacity to pass them. For some unknown, illogical, irrational reason, and may actually engage in very dangerous tactics to prevent one from doing so. Like speeding up as you pass, or even changing to the other lane to stop you.

    • RE: “It used to be common for a driver who preferred driving slow to pull over occasionally and let traffic pass.”

      Thirty years ago I saw that happen a lot on the roads in South Texas,… they have – Really – wide hyway shoulders down there compared to up here. …I thought it was the coolest thing.

      …Sometimes, up here in the Northland, a school bus might pull over when there’s twenty cars lined up behind it,… but, oh wait, it has been decades since I actually saw that happen.

      …’They’ probably don’t do that anymore. I don’t know (thankfully) I never have to travel at school bus hours anymore.

      Up early, back home early.

  10. My experience is that when I encounter a line of a few cars, and commence passing them, one of the rat bastards will take half a lane, or even the whole thing, then just piddle along at a crawl until there are oncoming cars and I have to slow back down and get in line. These were the goodie-two-shoes hallway monitors back in public school. Don’t like them now any more than I liked them then.

  11. My record was 12 in one pass, on a state highway with a section of straight plus wide shoulders. On the 450 Honda no less. This was back in 1975, Washington state must be the birthplace of clovers. NO ONE would move out on the lead car doing 45 in a 55 zone, off I went keeping a close eye on the others as I passed. I looked back, still the same line following the slowpoke.

    The road into town is 2 lane with a center turn lane, which I’ve used as a passing lane a number of times. 28 in a 35, nope – see ya! Pretty good visibility for seeing the fuzz so if no cop cars around off I go. Traffic in town is a mess due to the slowpokes, zero to 25 in like forever screws up the flow rate vs light timing.

    My parents learned to drive in the ‘30s, very logical driving habits. Riding with mom she explained how city traffic lights were timed to the speed limit- “now watch how this works, we caught the first green and I’ll keep a steady pace of 30”. Sure enough we went all through with greens all the way. Good luck with that today. Clovers pull out in front doing 20 you’re screwed. Or your city can’t comprehend light timing like the olden days!

  12. Lately I just pass when they drive like its sunday in the ‘50s.

    No one finger salute, no talking about their mothers, just pass. Too many people are worried about that one day the cops right there, but ya gotta stop living in fear and just do it

  13. That’s my biggest frustration with these Clovers, most of the roads around here are narrow and twisty, but there’s the occasional straightaway where you can pass a slowpoke – except when there’s TWO slowpokes and no way to get past both of them.

    • Mike,
      Add to that my extensive experience with drivers speeding up if the think you might have room to pass. Even exceeding the speed limit to keep you from passing them. I simply can’t fathom what insult is contained in being passed, but apparently it’s widespread. in my mind, as frail as it becomes, my obligation to a car that obviously wants to pass is to maintain a constant speed so that I’m a known quantity in their calculations.


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