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


Over here in Belgium, we have system called "Blokrijden" (Blockdriving). When there is a lot of traffic (due to the start of the holiday season or something) the police limit the speed on the highway by driving in front of traffic, just as these students did. The cars will drive closer together forming a "block" of cars. The capacity of the highway is increased, and there is less chance for a traffic jam, and less chance for accidents, since every car moves at the same speed. This works pretty effective over here.
Posted by Erik  in  Belgium  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  12:45 AM
Yeah.. but you forget that over here in the US, people take it as a god-given right to be able to drive as insane as they want. I live within reasonable distance of Highway 680, where the joke runs that you either travel 6 or 80... (speed limit is 65)

Personally, I've always felt that the term 'speed limit' should be changed to read 'Maximum Safe Speed'. Gets the point across a bit better, I think. Though you know some idiot - probably in my home state of California - is going to sue after getting in a lower-speed accident on the basis that they thought it would be completely safe.
Posted by Bobcat  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  01:38 AM
I'm sure it was annoying being stuck behind a bunch of self righteous students, but they did prove that those behind them were breaking the law, as they all must have been speeding(i.e breaking the law), to have caught them up and create such a massive tailback.
Posted by Royale  in  Bristol,UK  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  03:11 AM
The way I look at speed limit is this: Just because your car can get to a certain speed doesn't mean you have the reflex to handle it. This may come as a damage to "manhood" for many people because somehow fast driving has become something of a macho thing.

I've always had used cars, two of them VW bugs, and those things can hardly go over 60 if I REALLY tried.

So let's say the speed limit is 75 now, what about all the cars thatn can't reach that fast or the people who can't handle that speed?

Some may not give a shit about their lives but who came along and decide certain people should drive faster then anyone else and possibly endanger other people's lives?

Okay, let's say let's take it all away comepletly, 0 speed limit, people can drive as fast as they want.

Then what if some people comes along and decide we SHOULD have speed limit and pull a same stunt and all drive down the highway going 15 mph, what then?
Posted by Tom  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  03:55 AM
I drive fire trucks for a living. If someone died in a fire because these jerks were causing a traffic jam, someone would be pretty damn mad.

I'd also like to say that driving on the shoulder or in the grass for an emergency vehicle is not always such a good or safe idea. It slows down our response time and makes things a little more dangerous for the fire truck and the crew inside. Weight constantly shifts around due to the water inside the tank. Driving halfway in a ditch and getting stuck or rolling over would not be a fun experience for the fire dept. If we cant get there in a safe and efficent manner, then we can't help our public.

I understand how you feel Aaron, but "what if" your house was on fire and we couldnt get there because of something like this? You'd probably be upset, right? Regardless of the fact that they were driving the speed limit, they have no right to endanger other people's lives or property by purposly causing a traffic jam.

Regarding the total gridlock scenario...emergency responders are also allowed to use the lane of opposite flow of traffic to arrive on scene, however, this is very dangerous and should not be done unless you are passing. On a highway/freeway this is sometimes impossible. Also, the trucks on scene probably caused the gridlock. When there is an accident on a street, we usually set up our fire trucks in a way to block the lanes close to the accident with the fire truck, thus keeping the emergency area safe. Dont want a firefighter getting hit by a passing motorist when he/she is trying to help someone. This has happened before in the past, and that is why we now block the lanes with our trucks. Hopefully there's a way for traffic to go around us, but if not, it's ok because safety is the main issue here.
Posted by Mike  in  USA  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  04:02 AM
"But your stuck...the only way to not break that law is to break another. Catch-22."

If they were'nt causing a traffic jam, then no one would have to break the law to pass them.
Posted by Mike  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  04:34 AM
Sorry, I'd like to add one more thing. I was given a ticket once for driving the speed limit in the passing lane. The officer told me that lane was for passing people that were "slow to the right"
I guess he meant people passing on the left were to break the speed limit? Whether or not he was being legit with me, or just filling his quota for the day....a cop told me to break the speed limit when passing.
Posted by Mike  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  04:40 AM
Carbon emissions too - 55mph is a pretty good median for the most efficient speed for most cars to go at in terms of fuel consumption. It's the speed I drive on motorways and duel carriageways (where the limit is 70). SF Gate article on this:

As mentioned previously, slowing down can increase the number of cars that can 'fit' on the road, and can actually deacrease congestion.

Apart from emergency vehicales - what the hell is the rush? Is it such a huge deal to leave a few minutes earlier? As far as commercial vehicles are concerned, you won't be impeding them, as most will have speed limiters so they can't exceed the speed limit.
Posted by M  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  04:47 AM
"Apart from emergency vehicales - what the hell is the rush?"

Well, someone's life is in danger, that's what the rush is all about. Yeah, sure, let's just stroll on over there after lunch. It's only someone's life, right? They'll get another one, I'm sure!

"Is it such a huge deal to leave a few minutes earlier?"

I dont know if this was directed towards emergency responses, but if it was, its clear you dont work in such a type of job.
An emergency can happen at any time and any place. There is no option to "leave a few minutes earlier" When the call comes in - you go NOW!
"Yeah, someone's house is going to catch on fire in 30 minutes! Let's leave early and get there before it happens!" Yeah, right. Not going to happen.

The whole reason to "rush" to the scene of the emergency is to get there as soon as possible. It is an emergency, after all.
Posted by Mike  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  05:03 AM
Oops, didnt see the "apart" there - I apologise! My mistake! I guess I was kind of enraged thinking someone would think an emergency is no big deal. Sorry about the mix up! smile
Posted by Mike  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  05:06 AM
Simple logic dictates that this bunch of jack-asses also had to break the law to set this blockade up in the first place. There is no way anybody is going to convince me that these dick wads didn't speed to set this thing up, as at some point the three vehicles not in the slow lane had to travel faster to pass for the set up. In other words, the guy in the far left lane was speeding the fastest.

Throw the book at these idiots...
Posted by Christopher in Joplin, Missouri  in  Joplin, Mo  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  05:28 AM
Thank God I don't live in America, that's all I can say.
Has anyone considered what would have happened if this thing wasn't planned and four cars just happened to all be travelling at the speed limit in four lanes? Would you say they were breaking the law? They weren't deliberately setting out to impede traffic, but it may have happened.
And I think it's quiet ridiculous that you people think 55 miles an hour to be slow. Thats almost 90kms an hour. 75 miles an hour is 120 kms an hour. In most states in Australia, 110km/hour is the maximum speed allowed on any road, even when crossing the Nullabor and that's a bloody long way.
I think you people need to just slow down a bit and enjoy life before it slips away from you.
Posted by Nettie  in  Perth, Western Australia  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  07:36 AM
I'll just sit back and now and wait for the comments telling the Aussie hick to keep her nose out of it smile
Posted by Nettie  in  Perth, Western Australia  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  07:45 AM
Well said Nettie, well, I kinda wish you did live in the states but thats not relevant smile

In my opinion, public roadways are not the place for any sort of demonstration. If one of the people who had gotten fristrated and passed on the shoulder had suddenly encountered a broken down vehicle or worse yet, a person walking down the shoulder this incident would have turned into a tragedy rather than the ridiculous and moronic "demonstration" it was.
Posted by Chuck  in  Rhode Island  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  07:48 AM
The true crimes are the abhorrent production values of that video, and the obnoxious, self-absorbed sense of importance.
Posted by mark  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  07:56 AM
I wish I believed that all you guys getting het up about the potential slowing of emergency vehicles were really angered by that... my gut feeling though is that it's more what Alex has the decency to admit when he says "this is probably the angry driver inside of me feeling that way."

I f***ing hate the way that drivers - unlike people in almost any other context - seem to believe they have a god-given right to break the law.
Posted by outeast  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  08:20 AM
Even if they were following the letter of the law (which they probably weren't), these four kids still went out and intentionally disrupted traffic and inconvenienced many people, and it would have taken very little to have turned the whole stunt into a tragedy. There are other, better ways that they could have made their point.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  08:28 AM
The thing that most of you seem to be ignoring is that they caused a traffic jam. Regardless of speed limit, they initiated a prank that impeded the normal flow of traffic as per the law.

Besides, I don't think they ended up proving anything other than their own stupidity.
Posted by AqueousBoy  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  08:28 AM
I'd also like to add that the video sucked as an example of filmmaking.
Posted by AqueousBoy  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  08:31 AM
That Aussie hick needs to get a life!! hehe, someone had to say it. wink
Posted by Jack Assorta  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  08:37 AM
Be smart people -- this law, at it's core, is designed to prevent people from causing a jam by impeding the normal flow of traffic. The normal flow of traffic allows people to exceed the speed limit, legal or not. This law has be violated in spirit and in a premeditated fashion.

Obviously, you can find a wording error in any law. Let's say locale has a 'no weapons' rule, worded in a traditional fashion. You have a 6" lead pipe in your pocket. You are not breaking the law. However, when you close your fist around it and attack someone, you're employing it is a weapon, and you are breaking that law. By using the speed limit to intentionally create a blockade, you violate the clear purpose of the law. They may not be smart enough to recognize it, but that's no excuse.

No judge in his right mind would side with these students if this was in court -- it would create the opportunity for hundreds of people to do the same thing, create dangerous situations, and do it with impunity. Remember, the letter of the law isn't their whole life -- they are political animals too.

Technically right, morally right, irrelevant. The system would punish them if the opportunity presented itself and YOU ALL KNOW WHY, so quit arguing semantics.

Posted by The smart one  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  08:37 AM
I think that you have helped them demonstrate the absurdity of the current laws, Alex. Your legal cite shows that it is illegal to not break the law. And that is absurd.
Posted by Terry Austin  in  Surf City USA  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  09:16 AM
This seems very like what happens when a single police cruiser drives along in normal traffic. Suddenly everyone is a model citizen and has no reason to speed around the cop.
Posted by buba  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  09:20 AM
This is not civil disobedience. If they broke the law, they did it unintentionally. THerefore it was simply a pointed prank. Calling this CD really brings down actual CD.
Posted by T. Cri,  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  02:56 PM
SO what do they want? Drive 100 mphs or more? Then let them go drive for NASCAR see how damn good they are. Fast driving=accidents. No ifs, ands or buts.
Posted by Darren  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  03:16 PM
This has been done before. I remember 10 or 15 years ago a group of MPH activists pulled the same stunt in Michigan along I-696 or I-96. But, I can't find any references to back this up.
Posted by WeirdKid  in  MonkeyWorld #33  on  Thu Mar 02, 2006  at  10:39 PM
So driving 55mph is illegal now? I'm with the students here, but then again I live in Los Angeles so going 55mph would be a godsend. How can you be blocking traffic if no one can legally travel faster than you? The "side-by-side" is just a technicality saying you have to allow other people to violate the law and as such the students would be guilty.

I think the Georgia laws shows the hypocracy in the 55mph laws, viz. it was a law implemented by the FEDERAL government. Wait, the Feds can't make a law like that can they? True, but they promised to withhold Federal Highway Trust funds from states that did not implement a 55mph limit. Georgia is in the position a lot of states are - they need to have a 55mph limit law on the books but they'd prefer not to. Note the use of "normal flow of traffic" and "normal speed of traffic"
Posted by Saint Cad  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  12:44 AM
A few years ago I did the math -- it's not rational to speed (as a private person) unless you're going long distances, because it doesn't gain you anything.

If you're on a highway which is 55 mph, yet you travel it at 65 mph, you'll get to your destination around 10 minutes sooner, If You Travel For An Hour. If you're on a trip of 4 or more hours, the time adds up to a noticeable amount.

If your time on the highway at 65 is only 10 minutes, you'll get to your destination perhaps a minute earlier, but with a lot more stress and chance of accident as you dodge around other cars.

It's stupid to speed on local trips.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  02:29 AM
"How can you be blocking traffic if no one can legally travel faster than you? The "side-by-side" is just a technicality saying you have to allow other people to violate the law and as such the students would be guilty."

Sorry, but this is textbook BS. I may have missed it if anyone mentioned it before, but no one had to violate the law to pass them. No one could legally travel faster than them, but one or more of them could certainly travel slower. They were in violation of side-by-side, as all one of them had to do was slow to 53mph. Of course, with the situataion they created, it'd be a bull rush to get through that lane. Anyone remember a Who concert in 1981?
Posted by Mickyfinn  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  07:27 AM
Apparently, the Georgia Department of Transportation does not think the kids did anything wrong. 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."

Here's a link to the story:

Posted by Jimmy  in  Atlanta  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  07:59 AM
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