Slow Driving and Safe Driving

Paul Ripley explains how driving too slowly can be just as dangerous and antisocial as excessive speed

There is no need to feel guilty for driving at less than the speed limit if that is what safety requires, and I would never condemn anyone for doing so; indeed, I have frequently pointed out that speed limits represent a maximum, not a safe speed for all conditions.

Excessive speed is a causal factor in relatively few accidents (less than 10 per cent). Nevertheless, crude or not, speed limits save lives, and nobody in their right mind would argue against their sensible application. Irrespective of what limit is attached to a particular section of road, and whether it is sensible or not, we all have a duty to drive legally and, more importantly, safely.

Like other responsible drivers, I may choose to drive below a given speed limit if it isn't safe to proceed any quicker. But this requires judgment. To drive along a motorway at 30mph in good conditions because I didn't want to go any faster would not be a safe thing to do.

Similarly, if you drive at 40mph in a 50mph zone when there is no justification for such caution, you should not be surprised if a queue of drivers builds up behind you. And at that point you should take their rights and feelings into account as well as your own. How would you feel if you were held up by someone who shared your philosophy, but regarded 20mph as the ideal speed?

We all have to share the available road space, and to do so safely requires co-operation, courtesy and compassion. Yet some motorists don't seem to understand the effect they have on others. Persistent dawdling and/or obstruction can wreak havoc on the tempers of following drivers who lack a masters degree in patience, and their increasingly desperate attempts to overtake can be highly dangerous.

It is foolish of them to take risks, but the slowcoach at the head of the procession must share some of the responsibility for allowing the situation to arise. We are dealing with humans, not robots.

It is said of some drivers that thay have never have had an accident but have caused hundreds, and there is an element of truth in that stereotype. It is certainly hard to believe that the many drivers who travel everywhere at a steady 40mph - 20mph below the speed limit on the open road, but 10mph above the limit in villages and towns - are safer than those who vary their speed according to the prevailing conditions and the posted limit.

Try to ensure that when you drive below the limit you do so for a good and justifiable reason and not because you are unaware of the needs of others or get some kind of kick out of imposing your philosophy on them. If you really don't feel comfortable at a higher speed, allow following drivers to overtake you, as The Highway Code demands.

And if you find yourself in a procession but are unwilling to pass those ahead of you, then for goodness' sake leave an adequate space between you and the car in front so that those who wish to overtake can safely slot into the gap as they work their way past the queue; forcing a driver to overtake several vehicles at once, or making it hard for him to pull in, is a recipe for disaster. Selfish drivers are bad drivers, and potentially dangerous at any speed.

(Taken from the "Daily Telegraph", Saturday 9 March 2002. The copyright of Paul Ripley and the Daily Telegraph is acknowledged)