A Meditation on the Speed Limit

Status: Civil Disobedience Prank
image In order to demonstrate the stupidity of the 55 mph speed limit, four Atlanta students pulled a dangerous stunt: they all drove exactly 55 mph on the highway, in a line, thereby blocking the flow of traffic and creating an enormous traffic jam. Check out the video of it. I realize the students thought they were doing something clever, but as I watched the video I found myself getting more and more angry at them. It was like experiencing road rage while sitting behind a computer. I kept imagining the people in the blocked traffic who probably had to get to work, or wanted to get home, and who were instead being held up by these idiots and their road block.

Anyway, their argument — that their experiment proves the absurdity of the 55 mph law — is flawed. It didn't prove that at all. All it proved is that if you form a rolling blockade, it's going to create a traffic jam. It would have had the same effect at 65 mph. Plus, it's definitely against the law to form a blockade like they did. Only the police are allowed to do that. So they weren't actually obeying the law.

I realize that pranks are supposed to be obnoxious and annoy some people. But delaying innocent commuters, and creating a situation in which people could easily have gotten hurt as anger escalated, just doesn't seem quite right to me. Though this is probably the angry driver inside of me feeling that way. (One more thing: at the beginning of the video they misspell the word obedience.)

Update: Some quick googling, and I found the section of Georgia law (code 40-6-40, section D) that applies to what they did:

No two vehicles shall impede the normal flow of traffic by traveling side by side at the same time while in adjacent lanes, provided that this Code section shall not be construed to prevent vehicles traveling side by side in adjacent lanes because of congested traffic conditions.

So it was illegal, and they made a video of themselves doing it. Not too smart.

Update 2: David Spear, a spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department, has been quoted as saying that what the students did was legal:

David Spear, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said if the students weren't blocking emergency vehicles and were going the speed limit, "they didn't do a thing wrong." Spear added that the speed limit was lowered to 55 because it saves lives. "In Atlanta, the actual effect of it is we expect the people going 75 to move over so the people going 95 can have the right of way," he said.

So I guess I was wrong. Though I'm still having a hard time understanding how it can be legal, when the code referenced above seems to state that it's not legal.


Posted on Wed Mar 01, 2006

More content from the Hoax Museum:


I just can't get over how all of you still don't get it. The reason why 55 is the speed limit is because nobody drives it. This gives the police the power to pullover anyone they want AKA PROFILING. There are names for these kinds of laws. Loudmouth laws or lippie laws. All they do is give the police power to do what they want. Just like when anyone lips off to a cop they have some minor infraction that they can take you to jail for. This is all about police having power to do what they want. Think about it when we raise the speed limit or say we don't want to have police pull anyone over who is the first ones to start cying about it? The cops!!! What we are doing is taking power away from the cops. Many people would argue that this is a revanue issue. No once again if we want to crack down on speeders and use the money for revanue then we would put up cameras everywhere and catch THOUSANDS of speeders but instead we spend money on having cops sit by the road at $35000 a year and pull over one car every hour and give them a tickiet for 50 bucks. By the time you write the ticket and do all the paperwork and pay the cop the car and all the overhead its more expensive to have cops sit next to the road and pull people over. This brings cops to profiling which has been a problem for years. It has been proven that black males get more tickets than any other group. I would much rather have the cops doing real work rather than profiling people and taking rights away from citizens. Lets raise the speedlimit and put in cameras. Lets get these effin cops to do something rather than abuse there power and status. Take the power Back!!!
Posted by Matt  in  Denver  on  Mon Apr 03, 2006  at  12:20 PM
It is legal to "accelerate" while passing, not speed. I think that what those guys did was awesome, and it should be done more to show how stupid the speed limits are to be that low, and let people break it without getting a ticket.

They by no means did not break a law. Yes, they drove side by side, but they "couldn't" go any faster by law. The normal flow of traffic should be at, or below the posted speed limit, so there's no way they could impede the "normal" flow of traffic by going the speed limit. If an ambulance or police officer was trying to get through, the people behind them would've had to move over (which they shouldn't have had a problem because the only way they got that congested is by speeding, and they shouldn't have been speeding), and so still, they did nothing wrong.

If I were to do it different, I'd have 9 people. 4 to stay back a little, still going 54-55, to hold off traffic. Then the 5 in front would take up all 4 lanes and constantly pass each other (going 54-55 mph). The 4 in back stayed back so they wouldn't be tailgating, and the 5 in front did not stay side by side, they passed each other.

If somehow someone got a ticket, their argument would hold up in court about the others speeding, tailgating, passing in a non-passing lane, and hit and run for that van. If there was a problem with them doing that, the speed limit should be raised and enforced.

And btw, I by no means do the speed limit all the time, I have gotten 4 tickets. So I think this video is great.
Posted by Goober  on  Tue Apr 04, 2006  at  01:55 AM
I just read it, Sole (pg 6) I completely agree with you. It was nothing more than a well thought out, well planned, and well carried out PROTEST.

Which is legal.
Posted by Goober  on  Tue Apr 04, 2006  at  02:07 AM
Crap! I meant "They by no means broke a law." It's late here, I'm going to bed.
Posted by Goober  on  Tue Apr 04, 2006  at  02:11 AM
Bill Beaty's article on this sort of thing:
Posted by Ian  on  Fri Apr 07, 2006  at  01:20 AM
On the surface, four cars driving the speed limit is not illegal. The quoted section of Georgia code states that no two vehicles shall impede the normal flow of traffic by traveling side by side at the same time while in adjacent lanes. The key to that is the normal flow of traffic. The filmmakers were definitely impeding the normal flow. It was their whole point for making the film.

People have mentioned that they would have broken the speed limit by accelerating to change lanes, but you can also decelerate to change lanes. Granted, merging might have been a problem. grin

If the normal flow of traffic was 55, then the obstruction code applies to people who are travelling within the limit, just as it applies to these people. It would apply if they did their experiment at 60, 65, or 70, if they were still impeding traffic.

Raising the speed limit doesn't mean people drive the same speed. Someone driving 75/55 would probably drive 95/75. It doesn't follow that they'd drive 75, regardless of the posted limit. Some people like to speed, and they're willing to take the chance.

This was an unnecessary risk, and we already have too many people taking chances on the roads. They're lucky no one was killed.
Posted by Bruce  on  Mon Apr 10, 2006  at  01:15 PM
I had to respond to this. I LOVE this experiment, not as a means to show why the current speed limit is a bad idea, but why the way people drive is irrational and ridiculous.

I too, have been impatient many times, until as I realized, it causes stress (1. worry about getting tickets, 2. worrying about "moving ahead" of everyone). But, the difference between 55mph and 65mph over a 20 mile drive is only 3.36 minutes (about 9.81 minutes compared to 75 mph). Why put that much stress over such a small amount of time.

Living in LA and Boston, I have learned to be patient, drive the speed limit, relax, and not worry about things I cannot control.

People get upset and angry over these 6 minutes (or so) that is almost laughable, if it wasn't so hurtful in other ways.
Posted by Kevin  in  Los Angeles/Boston (Bi-coastal)  on  Thu Sep 14, 2006  at  08:17 PM
I think this is the coolest project regarding traffic laws ever! To all the comments about them breaking the law in Georgia...not so!

Georgia Code 40-6-40 states:

No two vehicles shall impede the normal flow of traffic by traveling side by side at the same time while in adjacent lanes, provided that this Code section shall not be construed to prevent vehicles traveling side by side in adjacent lanes because of congested traffic conditions.

Funny thing is...The law on the road states, the normal flow of traffic shall be 55 mph. By going 55 mph they weren't impeding the flow of traffic. Maybe everyone's flow is 75mph, but the normal flow as stated by law is 55 mph. Guess everyone else is breaking the law, not them!
Posted by matthew chambers  on  Sat Mar 24, 2007  at  09:27 PM
The speed limit is not important. You can be driving 45 (or less) in a 55 max zone and be ticketed for excessive speed for the conditions. If I drive faster than conditions allow for safety, I can be cited for excessive speed.
Posted by Steve  in  Las Cruces, NM  on  Tue Oct 16, 2007  at  10:05 PM
I read a couple of the comments here and I would say that unless you have experienced driving on the 285, you really don't know how ridiculous the law is. Everyone drives 80 mph, if you don't, people will honk at you. Even driving 65-70 is too slow.
Posted by anonymous  in  atlanta  on  Fri Dec 21, 2007  at  02:15 AM
Amazing - a group of people demonstrate for all the world to see the farce of too-low speed limits on a huge, impossible-to-ignore scale. There are no clever edits to pick apart, just meek citizens obeying Big Brother's 55 edict.

That's not good enough for some who want to convene a moot court about whether the kids broke the law or not. Hint: it doesn't really matter. They weren't prosecuted. They won't be prosecuted.

And the message of the film is clear.
Posted by Buddy L  in  Windward side of the hill  on  Wed Apr 02, 2008  at  07:06 PM
I have to say that the point that the students were trying to make is definitely is a good one, and although I realize that the manner in which they chose to make it was dangerous, I can't think of a better way to do it myself.
I believe that 55 mph on Interstates and highways w/out intersections (i.e. exits and not traffic lights) is outdated. And the vast majority of drivers do not obey it anyway. People in my local area also rarely use their turn signals or follow the rule of the left lane (don't be a jerk and yield to the faster vehicle.) The turn signals issue really perturbs me because it can very easily cause an accident. It's as if the people in Maryland weren't taught their use in driver's ed (or they were sleeping during that lesson.) The drivers here are also extremely rude in general.
As someone who does occasionally make long drives (my drive home to Tennessee is over 700 miles), I don't want to be stuck cruising at 55 mph for a 700-mile drive. I'm aware that not everybody drives a performance vehicle and that at least 60% of drivers wouldn't have a clue about double clutching, apexing corners, drafting and outbreaking. However, when I'm driving long distance I'll usually set the cruise at 80 or better on the interstate b/c I've been driving for a while now and I can easily handle my car, manoeuvre around the slow pokes and local traffic, and at around 80 mph my car settles into a nice comfortable groove and starts to just purr. I'm sure she'd find another such good groove around 120 mph if I wouldn't be thrown in jail if caught.
Although for most people driving is nothing more than a means of getting from place to place, it's really more than that. It's freedom. There's just something about getting in the driver's seat and hitting the open road, feeling that magical connection between man and machine. It's sort of a passion that some people just can't comprehend.
Well, that's my two cents worth.
Posted by Dave_BMW  in  Hanover, MD  on  Mon May 26, 2008  at  05:01 PM
Georgia Speed Laws:

Minimum Speed Limit: I. No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.
Posted by b  in  CA  on  Fri Jun 27, 2008  at  03:09 PM
Damn, b's grammar is like the DOT official in Georgia.

"If I'm reading this correctly....what the student in the fast lane was illegal, assuming the cars behind that student had intentions to go faster than 55."

should be...

"If I'm reading this correctly....what the student in the fast lane DID was illegal, assuming the cars behind that student had intentions to go faster than 55."
Posted by Bb  in  CA  on  Fri Jun 27, 2008  at  03:13 PM
That people think young men doing the speed limit and encouraging others to do the same are jerks is apalling. Are we saying it is okay to break the law when it is inconvenient or we don't like it? We elect the lawmakers in this country, that is why it is called a republic. If the speed limit law annoys us, work to get it changed, but obey it in the meantime. Otherwise we some day risk our children murdering us because they "felt like it".
Posted by BobLfoot  on  Sat Jul 26, 2008  at  10:47 AM
Some people just have too much time on their hands! I guess these students felt good about this. Didn't anyone do anything about this?
Posted by Motorcycle Fairings  on  Thu Sep 04, 2008  at  06:50 AM
This is in response to the question regarding the legallity of exceeding the speed limit while passing. It is legal in some states to speed while passing, for example Washington state
Posted by Wade  in  Boise  on  Thu Oct 30, 2008  at  01:56 AM
To line up they either had to keep to a slower speed until everyone was in line and then sped up (which means they would have to impede traffic) or some of them would have had to do over 55 to catch up to the one(s) that were so were breaking the law.
Posted by Wondering  in  Canada  on  Tue Jun 23, 2009  at  02:39 PM
I'd like to know what the minimum speed limits are those that are not posted which is most everywhere.
As I have searched until Iam sick in Georgia code,annotated,and on line noone seems to know its rather an abstract thing it seems.
Would perhaps one of you here know?
Posted by nevets  in  Georgia  on  Fri Aug 14, 2009  at  04:01 AM
The students in this video never asserted to be acting within every law imaginable. Those who argue the illegality of the students' actions are missing the point.
Is 55mph an appropriate speed limit if the vast majority of drivers exceed this speed? All in all, this video does a wonderful job of visually demonstrating how many drivers would choose to drive faster than 55mph (if not physically prevented from doing so by a rolling blockade).
Posted by Superspeeder  in  Traffic  on  Tue Jan 26, 2010  at  01:18 PM
If the students weren't there, the people trying to get home would be held up by the SPEED LIMIT. Which is too low! Which is THE WHOLE POINT!

The students have come and went. The speed limit remains. C'mon people, see the forest.
Posted by Colin  on  Fri Apr 23, 2010  at  05:59 AM
If the speed is legally limited to 55 mph, your statement that it is a "dangerous stunt" is stupid and illogical. If speed limit is set to 55 mph, then students by driving at that very speed are not only respecting the law, but they are respecting it properly.

How can respecting the law to the letter can be construed as "dangerous stunt".

You mean that each time a car, bike respects a speed limit it is a dangerous stunt ?

So if the law says that I cannot shoot people in the head in the streets, which is the case, it is a dangerous stunt to go around in streets without shooting people in the head for no apparent reason ?

What the fuck is wrong with you ?
Posted by Gilbert  on  Thu Apr 21, 2011  at  04:35 PM
If your argument is that most people don't follow the speed limits, therefore the laws are dumb, I would say that's flawed. What abotu the people who feel pressured to speed because they'll be "impeding traffic" if they don't? A lot of people feel entitled that anyone going slower than them move out of their way, and if they don't do that fast enough, they're opening themselves up to violence from road-ragers. I don't appreciate a lot of entitled drivers feeling they have the right to take risks with my life and my child's life. Is it okay because they're late for work?
My point is, if everyone followed the damn speed limit, there would be noone who would risk others' lives and limbs because they're road-raging over this 'blockade'. If there are no speed limits, do you honestly think more people will drive courteously and safely?
Posted by trish  on  Thu Jul 21, 2011  at  04:38 PM
My argument is flawed because a small percentage of people are pressured to drive faster than they would choose? That's ABSURD. The vast majority of people choose their travel speed because it is the speed at which they feel confident. Society makes laws based upon the wishes of the people. The people wish to go faster than the speed limit. The speed limit is wrong.
Would people drive courteously and safely? YES. Because most people aren't suicidal. Danger is all around us. Only children and crazy people need to be protected from themselves. Most adults are capable.
And finally, if you want to mosey on down the road, it is courteous to get out of the way. You're not being a hero by slowing people down. You're being an @$$#073. You want to save lives? Use your blinker when you change lanes and turn your lights on when its raining.
Posted by Colin  in  Atlanta  on  Fri Jul 22, 2011  at  04:05 AM
And the whole claim that this is a hoax is ridiculous. It was to show that most people want to go faster than 55. That is what they demonstrated and that cannot be refuted.
If the rolling blockade was travelling 150MPH, no one would be behind them. People are stacked up behind them because almost everyone drives faster than 55 when able. NO ONE is in front of them because EVERYONE has traveled away at speed faster than 55. Not only was this not a hoax but it was an outstanding demonstration of the point they were making.
Posted by Colin  on  Fri Jul 22, 2011  at  04:18 AM
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