Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Driving Slow Needs a Different Skill Set

I was just reading a blog by "Miss Busa", by a lady who likes to ride fast. She previously owned a Suzuki Hayabusa, their fastest machine, and now rides a BMW S1000RR, which if I guess right is BMW's fastest bike. She also goes to a track for motorcycle drag races in her spare time. However, following her accident which wrecked the 'busa, and some safety discussions with her husband, who I guess is the guy she calls "Mr. Slow", she had a moment's hesitation while riding her new bike on the freeway. Her natural instinct would have been to nail the throttle and blast through any dodgy situation, instead she slowed down, and almost got trashed from behind by a fast moving SUV.

Long ago I came to the conclusion that driving slow needs a different skill set from driving fast. Either one can be dangerous. And just in case you think there is some "sweet spot" in the middle where you can safely drive while text messaging, no there is not. When you drive at an average speed, you are statistically less likely to have an accident, but you have to sometimes use the fast driving skills, and sometimes also use the slow driving skills, depending on the traffic around you.

What skills are needed for driving fast? Fast reaction times, good eyesight, ability to remain focused on the road both far ahead and closer to you, ability to anticipate situations ahead, good braking and steering skills, and always having a plan B in mind. That's some of them, I'm sure there's more. And you can overlay that with constantly checking for police cars and radar traps.

What skills would you need for driving slow? Fast reaction times, good eyesight, ability to look in front and in the rear view mirror as well, and always having a plan B in mind. Steering and braking skills are required, of course, but it's only at higher speeds that it pays to develop these skills more than what the average granny could muster. So far the skills look almost the same, but there is huge difference when it comes to anticipating traffic situations. When you drive fast, most of your worrisome situations come from slow moving vehicles: slow trucks, slow cars in the fast lane, stopped traffic, etc. But when you drive slow, most of your worrisome situations arise from vehicles coming at you from behind. And so all your traffic strategy is different. For example, you need to know what to do about tailgaters, and yes, it takes some experience to handle that right. You need to know how and when to help other people get by you. How to deal with road rage. You need to know how to use the brake lights to send important information, instead of riding the brake lightly with the brake light on most of the time. With a motorcycle, hand signals help too. You need to monitor not only the rear mirror a lot more, but also the two blind spots just to the side of the rear view mirror, and you need to know how big these blind spots are. You also need to be very aware when you go slower than your usual slowness. Much like a speeder has to be aware of the difference between 20 over the limit, and 60 over the limit. A slow driver has to be aware that going 10 under the limit is radically different from 60 under the limit.

The motivation for driving slow may be simply that the driver thinks it will be safe. Or there may be a problem with the vehicle. Recently there has been a very small but increasing number of people who are going slow (hypermiling) trying to save gas.

Unfortunately, a lot of slow drivers are not good drivers at any speed. But you could say the same for a lot of fast drivers too. Just going slow is not a magic bullet to make you a safe driver. Yes it's easier, but for people who normally drive too fast, they must be aware that different skills need to be developed for going slow. And it is a very good idea to practice them once in a while.

For your homework, I have a couple of links on the dangers of slow driving.

Picture: From ...Is that motorcycle going faster or slower than the traffic? With that road position, it's not likely to be the same speed.


  1. I had to drive to Toronto yesterday for a 6:00 p.m. appointment. I felt much safer in the 120-130 Kph stretches than I did when the traffic slowed down.

    Bummer day on the DVP southbound ... from the accident reports and the pace of the traffic, I suspect all three separate accidents were the result of drivers losing focus during the stop-and-go, and failing to control their vehicle before it contacted alien metal :-(

    And, BTW (off-topic, I realize) what's with the 404's High Occupancy Vehicle Lane? Don't the cops enforce that any more? I'm positive that the majority of vehicles in that lane at 5:30 yesterday afternoon had a single passenger.

  2. I just found this post. Well written and I agree. :) Thank you for the honorable mention. Makes a girl kinda proud that people actually read her blog, and further take something away from it. Mr. Slow isn't really all that slow, yes, he's my husband. We have different strategies when it comes to dealing with traffic. We had to agree to disagree on each other's riding styles. It works for each of us. We ride our own rides. We're both still alive and well, so apparently we're doing something right, even if it isn't necessarily something the other person would agree on. He has rubbed off on me a little and I have on him.

    It's not drag racing I do, I actually am a knee dragger. I suck at straight line speed. LOL

    Anyway, just thought I'd stop by and say hi. :)

    ~Em Alicia aka Miss Busa

    1. On rereading your blog, I just could not help wondering what difference it would have made if your husband could have warned you ahead of time about the truck with the burned out lights. This year, Mary Ann and I are planning a 6 week motorcycle trip to the west coast, each on our own bike, and I expect situations like this could happen. Much as I dislike relying on new technology, I wonder if rider-to-rider communications headsets could give an extra margin of safety in situations like this.

      Testing out an intercomm on the new blog LOST AND BURGIE GO WEST