No matter where someone lives in the world, chances are they’ll eagerly tell you how their drivers are undoubtedly the worst in the world. And the same horrific acts are vilified: failing to merge correctly, not signalling, cutting in front of other drivers, and rolling through stop signs. And “driving like maniacs” is always a good one.
But the most vitriol is reserved for people who drive too slowly. Especially those that have the nerve to drive below the speed limit! People seem to get agitated and lash out at other drivers, without considering other factors that might be at play.
Why do people drive slowly?
The default answers seem to be that they are assholes (#1 answer) or idiots (#2 answer). Undoubtedly, some of them are idiots or assholes, like you suspect. Perhaps they relish making people late for their important meetings. Perhaps they are so dumb they can’t remember which pedal is which. Perhaps they love to rile you up and cause you to give them the middle finger.
Or perhaps there’s a genuinely good reason. I can think of a few dozen without trying too hard.
They are in an unfamiliar area
When you are commuting to work or driving to one of your common destinations, it’s easy to assume that everyone around you is in the same boat. But on your first trip to these areas, you probably drove a bit slower as you learned how to navigate or learn the landmarks. People who spend most of their lives in a flat, gridded city will lack the skills needed on twisty mountain passes.
They are new drivers
In Oregon, there are 200,000 new drivers every year (of all ages) out of 3.1 million licensed drivers. That means that one of every 15 cars you see just got their license that same year. Try to remember what kind of driver you were within a year of getting your license.
They value their lives more than you do
Let’s say you have 100 Facebook friends. Odds are that one of those people will die of a car accident. And two-thirds of them will be injured in an accident, but not killed. Smart, well-educated people are aware of how dangerous driving a car is, yet they are more careless than when they are doing other activities. It’s silly to criticize someone who simply wants a longer life, surrounded by people who don’t seem to value theirs enough.
They have prior accidents or tickets
If you’ve ever been at fault in an accident or gotten a ticket, you’re in danger of having your insurance premiums hiked or even getting your license suspended. If someone is out driving in that scenario, you better believe they will be driving as carefully as possible and not speeding.
They aren’t feeling mentally or physically well
If you’re sick, concentrating can be hard, and your reaction times can be slowed. It’s reasonable that someone feeling ill is not in the mood to be zooming around. Perhaps they have mental health issues or are struggling with something very negative in their life that they are ruminating over.
They don’t have a navigation system
Newer cars have fancy navigation systems that tell you where to go so that you can devote your whole attention to speeding and cursing other drivers. But those with older cars have to do things the old-fashioned way. They have to pause to scan for landmarks or street signs. They might have to look for stop signs, and traffic lights rather than their nav system telling them where they all are and when one is coming up. You’re far more likely to be lost without a nav system.
They have very young children or pets on board
Expect that parents with children on board are often going to drive more carefully. When you hear someone complain about people driving slowly, find out if they have kids. I don’t have kids, but I have pets that I sometimes bring to the vet. I try to drive carefully, so they are comfortable.
They are law-abiding
Even though many people don’t see much point in speed limits, the fact is that a lot of people actually think that speeding is breaking the law. Maybe you think that’s silly, but I wouldn’t call someone following the law an asshole. 🙂
They aren’t very good drivers
Driving is a skill, and some are better than others. Some people have logged more miles, and some just have more natural abilities, like better reaction times, coordination, and the ability to multitask. It’s easy to take your driving skills for granted, but think of how much you need to visually process at any given moment. Not being a good driver isn’t the same as being an idiot.
They are in an area with children present
If children play near a street, people will be a lot more cautious in case a kid darts in front of a car. It’s not worth endangering a kid to ensure you get to work on time.
They are on the lookout for pedestrians or bicyclists
If you live in an area with many walkers or bikers, and you like when people let you cross a road, return the favour. It might be required to let others cross at designated points in some places. Again, some people are law-abiding, and this is part of it. Don’t force them to be rude if they are not rude.
They lack experience in current conditions
Some people avoid driving in certain conditions because they are just uncomfortable in the rain or snow. So when they have no choice, they lack experience in handling their cars in those conditions. As people age, their eyes are less quick to adapt to changes in light conditions, so they are understandably more cautious at night.
Their car is not as fancy as yours
Fancy new cars have all sorts of safety features. For example, my car has a lot of driver assist functionality that keeps me in the confines of a lane, keeps me at a steady speed, avoids collisions, helps with lane changes, and so on. It also has features like traction control. Some cars have tires that handle better under less than ideal conditions. Low-end cars may not accelerate as well, especially on hills. Of course, if everyone drove a “self-driving” Tesla, I wouldn’t have to write this. 😉
They are uncomfortable changing lanes
For some, zipping back and forth between games is no harder than using a joystick. But just like parallel parking, some people struggle with it. Even though you have mirrors and check your blind spot, there’s sometime this nagging feeling that you’re missing something. Compounding that is that people driving very fast will show up in the blind spot even after carefully checking it, especially if a driver takes extra time to make a lane change.
They don’t want to speed when passing
We all know the left lane (or right lane in right-driving countries) is for passing cars in the other lane. However, many people translate that to mean that they should drive well over the speed limit to pass the neighbouring car, and they get frustrated when a car in the passing lane does its passing at a slower rate because they want to stay within the limits. You’ll see this a lot with trucks where one is going a few mph/kph faster, so they move into the passing lane and take several minutes to accomplish the task. Long-haul trucks, as the name indicates, drive very long distances, so 5 mph/kph may save them an hour over a day’s trip.
Driving slowly in curves
A very common scenario I hear is with a two-lane road that switches between straight and twisty. People who are not great at curves will drive the speed limit in the straight bits, then slow down in the curves, and then speed up to get back to the speed limit in the next straight portion. This irritates drivers that want to pass them. As soon as a straightaway appears, they are foiled in their attempt to pass. They aren’t doing it to irritate you.
Some people are old
I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true! I find that most complaints about other drivers come from younger people, who have faster reaction times, better conditioning, and more multi-tasking skills than older folks. You have to take that into account and realise that you don’t want people to drive faster than they can handle or risk an accident.
Some people are not very bright
Not everyone can be as smart as you! Don’t equate “not very bright” with someone who is being an asshole. Their brains are less adept at many things. They might actually be very nice people! My dictionary has a sample sentence for “idiot”: the drivers around here are complete idiots. See what I mean? 🙂
They rarely drive
Some people like to bike, walk, or take public transit, so they have less experience. Like anything, you can get out of practice.
They are driving an unfamiliar car
Perhaps their car is in the shop, they are driving a loaner, or they are renting a car on a trip. Imagine what it was like when you got a new car, and it took some time to get comfortable.
They are tourists
There are some special considerations for tourists. In addition to possibly driving an unfamiliar car, they may be in a country that drives on a different side of the road. They may enjoy the scenery you’ve already seen hundreds of times. They may just be unstressed and enjoying a vacation. Tourists are potentially good for your economy, so give them some space.
They’d rather drive slow than poorly
This one ought to make you happy. They are choosing safety over speed. Do you really want people to drive faster than they are comfortable with? Perhaps they are doing what most people do in their cars but shouldn’t: eating. Some people groom themselves in their cars. I don’t think it’s a great idea, but I’d rather they drive at a safe speed while doing these things.
Getting agitated over other drivers is more likely to cause accidents, and the stress will undoubtedly lead to a shorter life. Just leave earlier and enjoy the scenery.