Go Slow To Go Fast
Why highways move more swiftly when you force cars to crawl along at 55 mph.
There is no more common lament voiced by the American driver than of the one about the “idiot” in the “fast lane” who’s slowing down traffic. If everyone could just drive faster, the thinking goes—if we could only cull the weak gazelles in our furiously charging migration—we could stamp out congestion.
We equate speed in traffic with efficiency. In the U.K., the Tory government is currently advocating raising the speed limit on certain motorway sections to 80 MPH, anticipating a massive windfall in economic productivity and time saved. It’s speed as the health of the state! (Though not all projections are so rosy.)
But one thing that tends to be lost on the individual driver, who through the proscenium of his windshield commands what he believes to be an empirically incontrovertible perspective on the ground truth of traffic, is that sometimes you have to go slower to go faster.
Lower highway speeds may get you where you’re going faster, as counterintuitive as it sounds, thanks to speed harmonization.
Illustration by Rob Donnelly.