For the past couple of months I’ve been commuting from my house in suburban Sydney to a customer site in Orange, about 3 hours (225km, 140mi) away. About half of the commute time is highway driving, with a speed limit anywhere from 80km/h to 110km/h (50mph – 65mph).
Now for those who don’t know Australian country highways, it’s pretty common for the highway to be a single lane anywhere up to 90% of the time, with irregular short overtaking zones (1-5km long) where the road widens to 2 lanes. Other than those zones, you can overtake on the wrong side of the road if the road is suitably marked, and you have sufficient courage.
With that in mind, here’s what I was faced with last week, showing only problems exhibited by fully licensed drivers (no L (Learner) or P (Provisional) plate holders), on my commutes; not only from home to customer site, but also on the 50km trip from hotel to the customer site:
- Drivers that would overtake a few cars in the overtaking zone, then, as they were passing the last car they wanted to pass, would slow down to ensure that at the end of the overtaking zone, the car being overtaken would slot in behind th em (thus holding up the other 3 people who wanted to pass). I’d call it an accident except that it happened in 5 overtaking zones in a row. Here’s a hint: The sign says Keep Left Unless Overtaking. That means you, asshole!
- Drivers who travel 20% below the posted limit until they reach the overtaking lanes, whereupon they accelerate to 110% of the posted limit, preventing those who were held up from overtaking. You know who you are.
- Drivers who, at the first sign of rain, panic and travel 30% or more below the posted limit. If you can’t drive at or near the speed limit, pull over and let those who are being held up pass.
- Drivers who, at highway speeds (110km/h is 30 metres every second) feel the need to sit 5m or less from your rear bumper – if I have to stop quickly, you’ll place your engine in my back seat, and I won’t be nice;
- Drivers who are so focused on passing the slow B-Double truck in front of them that they position themselves 10m behind the truck, weave back and forth so they can see past, then take 2km to pass on the wrong side of the road because they’re scared of exceeding the speed limit.
Does no-one teach highway craft any more?
I know my father showed me the different ways to drive on highways. And I didn’t even have a license at the time – I was 13 (no I wasn’t driving, he explained it to me):
- If you’re going to overtake on the wrong side of the road, do it quickly. Start 50-100m from the vehicle to overtake, accelerate so that as you pull into the oncoming lane, you’re moving significantly faster than the overtaken vehicle. Continue accelerating until you move back to your own lane, thus minimising the time and distance in the wrong lane, then return to the speed limit;
- If you overtake in the overtaking lane, DO IT QUICKLY AND GET OVER. You never know when someone faster than you will pop up in the mirror. It might even be an emergency vehicle trying to get somewhere.
- Be aware of the other drivers around you. That means if there are no overtaking opportunities, and you’re holding up a stack of cars (perhaps more than 4 or 5), pull over to the emergency lane for a few seconds so they can pass. Everyone is less stressed, and there’s no pressure on the faster cars to do something stupid;
- If you’re travelling below the speed limit, don’t accelerate in the overtaking lanes to prevent people passing you. Not only is it rude, it’s STUPID.
- Travel at or near the speed limit, assuming reasonable conditions. If it’s a bright sunny day, and you’re travelling at 75% of the limit, then you are obstructing traffic. It’s an offence rarely prosecuted today;
- Rain does not erase your memory. Two water drops on the windscreen does not mean you forget how to drive. The most you should do in that scenario is watch for heavier rain (in which case you might drop 5 km/h, or 10 in heavy rain).
Now admittedly 20 years ago the police could be, and frequently were more lenient about speeding than their government masters permit today. 20 years ago they didn’t blink if you were moving along at a slightly more rapid pace than the posted limit, as long as the speed differential between the cars travelling “together” was close to 0 (that is to say, if everyone is moving at 120 in a 100 zone, it’s perhaps safer to do the same rather than travel 16% slower and create congestion, frustrate other drivers and potentially incite those frustrated drivers to make a fatal mistake). Today, of course, if you’re travelling at 105 in that same 100 zone, you’re worse than a murderer.