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Slow Drivers

Slow drivers can be as much a hazard as speeders.

Last month the Northern Pen featured a front page story about an RCMP blitz on the Great Northern Peninsula; officers were on a campaign to nail drivers for anything from cell phone usage while driving to alcohol & drug-related offences. Infractions such as neglecting to wear seat belts, expired registrations, aggressive driving, and inattention to speed limits in construction zones were noted. Corporal Curtis Stone from Traffic Services recommended that with the fall season upon us and the potential for black ice, drivers slow down.

However, how slow is slow? I drove behind an older lady last week, and she was the mother of all slow drivers.

If it’s a pleasant day and the roads are dry, why would anyone be creeping along the highway? I’ve clocked some drivers on Route 430 from St. Anthony to the Griquet branch at a consistent 60 km/h in a 90 km/h zone. And those who drive this stretch of highway—and generally adhere to the posted speed limit—know there is really only one short passing margin near the Triple Falls RV Park. It’s no fun being locked in behind a timid, nervous or inattentive driver; especially one who won’t pull over to let other drivers pass; in fact, it can lead to a bit of nail-biting or teeth-grinding. Sometimes road rage is caused by drivers such as these.

I’ve known a few slow drivers in my time. My own father was fined by the RCMP for driving too slow in his old ’52 Chev. We were out for a Sunday drive—my dad, mom and six of us kids—cruising down the highway when my brother looked over his shoulder and said, “Dad, a police car with its lights flashing!” My dad pulled over and the officer stuck his head in the window and sternly admonished, “Sir, you’re driving too slow!” He handed my dad a ticket and drove off. Dad fumed about that for a long time, but now that I’ve been subjected to slow drivers, I can see why the officer dished out the ticket.

Another time, my father was driving east on the Trans-Canada Highway through Saskatchewan, on holiday, and we were being closely followed by a transport truck. Frustrated at the big machine bearing down on our car, Dad pulled over onto the shoulder—too abruptly—and the tractor-trailer swung past. But my father had maneuvered too far onto the shoulder and the car tipped precariously, almost rolling into the ditch. Chaos ensued, with Dad shouting orders for us to sit still so the car wouldn’t tip, kids scrambling to the safe side of the car, and my mother alternating between shrieks and prayers. Up ahead, the driver of the transport truck noted our dilemma, stopped and backed up. Two burly men got out, attached a hook and tow-rope to the car, and towed us back onto the highway.

Not all provinces or cities have such sedate speed limits as Northern Newfoundland. In Calgary, on the Deerfoot Trail, slow drivers were warned to stay off or they would be ticketed. In Europe the Autobahn has no set speed limit at all. A friend of mine, a native of Labrador City, gave birth to her first baby while traveling along the Autobahn. Medics arrived to deliver the baby on the shoulder of the road with traffic whizzing by at unimaginable speeds.

The name Autobahn translates as "federal motorway". German autobahns have no federally mandated speed limit, although limits are posted (and enforced) at certain times in certain areas. Our son Paul resides in Belgium and says that on the Autobahn, an advisory speed limit of 130 km/h applies, but on the open section the cars in the fast lane drive at an average speed of 180; while the fastest speed Paul has driven has been 230 km/h.

I’m not advocating higher speeds on the Northern Peninsula, but when the roads are dry and the weather is fine, surely drivers can keep within five or 10 km/h of the posted speed limit.

And…much as I love the two old ladies who were motoring along in their Honda on Route 430 last week at 45 km/h in a 90 km/h zone, I cannot reconcile myself to driving at such a snail’s pace. Perhaps the old girls need a refresher to boost their confidence. Whatever their reasons for driving so slowly, it is my considered opinion that people who drive at a snail’s pace are as much a hazard on the highways as those who are reckless.

Let’s do something about it.


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