By Leah St. James
Why don’t you write a story about the moronic drivers around here?
That sentiment was left via voicemail by one of our many faithful readers who enjoy giving their opinion about our coverage of the local news. Often I have to squelch the urge to roll my more cynical, born-and-bred-in-the-north eyes at what my southern neighbors think of as news, but this time I had to agree with the caller’s assessment.
The drivers around here (southeaster Virginia) can be aggravating. Except it turns out the caller and I are on opposite sides of his argument.
He went on to say that there was NOWHERE else in the country that drivers are as FAST as where we live.
Seriously, he said that.
I had to listen a few times to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood. But nope, he said it, and by the tone of his voice, he meant it: There are no faster drivers in the country than here.
Nowhere. Not in the northeast or southwest. Not in the deep south or plains states. According to this man, southeastern Virginia has the FASTEST drivers in the country.
Aside from the fact that any kind of statement of absoluteness like that should be questioned, my personal experience told me his argument was false. After growing up in a faster-paced northeast, I now live in the land of the pace cars where drivers seem to think they can control the speeds of others around them. They’ll line up across a three-lane roadway and go the EXACT SAME SPEED for miles at a stretch, while behind them, cars are jockeying for position to make a break for open road if the slightest chance occurs.
I know I’m not alone in my frustration either. A friend at work ordered a vanity license plate that reads (in essence): Please move. (I commended him for adding the “please.”) 🙂
I’ve also spoken about this phenomenon to another friend at work who came here via New York, North Carolina and finally Michigan. She calls it convoy driving and attributes it to the large military population in our area. “Soldiers are used to lining up and following the lead,” she says, “so it makes sense they do that while driving.”
I don’t know what the reason is, nor do I care. I only know that it drives me to cursing and fussing for the few short miles it takes me to navigate from the newspaper office to home at the end of a long day.
Still, I always try to look at a situation from both sides (regardless how moronic the other side might be). So I did a little Googling to see if there are any data that could defend his position, or mine. I wasn’t able to come up with anything too current, but I think for purposes of this unscientific debate, I’ll take it.
According to a 2009 survey posted on autoblog.com of driver behavior by Tom Tom, which can track user speeds by their devices, most drivers stayed within posted speed limits during the survey period. The states with the fastest roadways in the country were determined to be (in order of speed): Mississippi, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah and Alabama. The survey went on to reveal that the fast area of the country was the “middle part of the country. Seven of the top 15 states with the fastest highways are in that area.”
Finally, the report got to the part I was waiting for: “Speeds on single interstate highways that span a number of states, such as the I-95 route running from Northern Maine to Southern Florida, differ dramatically depending on where you are. Along that highway, the fastest section is in South Carolina; the slowest sections are in Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.”
I don’t care that this data is more than four years old. I have enough empirical evidence to convince me that basic driver behavior hasn’t changed.
I don’t care that average speeds are going to be slower in areas of more congestion—e.g., the northeast compared to wide-open states like Idaho. He said “fastest,” and I can prove him wrong.
So now I just have to wait for this faithful reader to call back and ask why we haven’t yet run with his request. I’ll be ready.