I read letters to the editor — the missives readers submit in hopes of seeing them on the editorial page — even (or especially) when I know immediately that I’m not going to agree with the writer’s viewpoint.
A recent letter in The Tribune, however, got my hackles rising to the point where having them collide with passing aircraft was a distinct possibility.
Apparently, a reader from Los Osos gets testy when stuck behind vehicles being driven a bit under the speed limit.
We Cambria motorists are painfully familiar with that syndrome. We have two primary routes out of town, and both are 55 mph, two-lane state highways with spectacular scenery and few pullouts or legal opportunities to pass.
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What to do if you’re behind a slow driver? Relax, pal. Enjoy the views and the ride.
Sure, if you’re driving at 50 instead of 60, you’ll get there a few minutes later. But you’ll get there.
If you’re truly impeding the flow of traffic, that is bad. Say you’re at a steady 40 mph in a 65 zone, or you’ve got five or more vehicles lined up behind you. If there are no extenuating circumstances, you might get a ticket, or some impatient idiot might try to do an unsafe pass around you.
However, driving at 50 mph when the speed limit is 55 is a lot better — and safer — than driving at 75.
We all know that no job, meeting, appointment or place to be is important enough to risk innocent lives by driving faster than limits, conditions or skills allow, by passing unsafely or being distracted by devices — or road rage.
Some of us just need to be reminded.
CHP says many more accidents happen to people who are driving too fast than those driving slightly below the speed limit, and the faster they’re going before the accident, the more likely it is that the accident will kill somebody.
That’s especially true if the fast driving is done in an unsafe manner, like the hot-car driver who crossed a double-yellow line at dusk, passed three cars on a blind curve and skidded back into his own lane with not enough spare room for a toothpick between him and oncoming traffic (us).
But the Los Osos reader’s letter made me especially angry because one especially galling implication in it was that a person who drives slower than the speed limit must be way too old and frail to be behind the wheel and should get their elderly tush off the road. Right now.
Wait just a darn minute!
Yes, some older drivers shouldn’t be driving any more. But this reader needs to chill out and have some empathy and imagination. There are many other reasons why that driver in front of you might be going more slowly than the speed limit. For instance:
- He’s a slightly terrified new driver.
- She’s unaccustomed to the vehicle or the road.
- They’re looking for an exit or an address, or are lost.
- It’s their first time on a freeway.
- The wary driver recently got a pricey ticket for a minor infraction.
- The weather is bad.
- There’s a hazard ahead.
- The driver is suddenly not feeling well.
- Perhaps a passenger in the car is being driven home from or to the hospital. Perhaps the patient is in pain, he’s in a new cast, or she’s in labor! Go too fast, and swerve or hit a bump? Ouch! Going slower is the merciful thing to do.
- But this reason is my favorite — perhaps because we’ve done it hundreds of times: We’d be driving carefully, a bit under the speed limit, especially on a curvy road.
On one occasion, a driver behind us was obviously in a snit. In our rear-view mirror, we saw his eyebrows slammed together, a scowl on his face. We could almost hear the swear words as they turned the air blue inside his car.
Then he spotted our sign.
Angry Man’s expression softened. He flashed a tiny smile, slowed down and backed off, seemingly content to wait until traffic conditions allowed him to go on his merry way.
It read, “Please be patient with us if we’re driving slowly. We’re delivering a wedding cake.”