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

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Posted by Phil  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  08:05 AM
...This is 3 pages long already, and I really only read the first page...but I'll post anyway, possibly repeating someone.

The kids are retarded, although, I'm glad they did what they did.

I drive to work on a 45 mph rdwy, and then a 50 mph hwy. On the first 4 miles of the 45 mph rdwy there is a construction zone & the speed limit has changed to 25 mph. People try to pass me, (b/c I am going exactly 25) and in turn, are endangering opposing traffic. They are also endangering ME. If they start to pass, and realize they can't get around me b/c of oncoming traffic...they're going to try and move back in their lane. They can't go onto any shoulder - there isn't one. The road is blocked in by barriers on either shoulder. The lanes have also been skinnied up to give the construction crews more room.

The speed limit is the TOP speed you can drive in PERFECT conditions. The appropriate distance is one car length between vehicles on dry roadways, and 2 on wet. It did not look like all those vehicles were following the law regarding distance, either.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  09:15 AM
That was sweet! The people who speed and put themselves and everyone in danger. Everyone should just chill out. They could have driven in a chevron pattern to make it leagal. Maybe that's what I'll do!!
Posted by Solo  in  WI  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  10:58 AM
I'm sure this point has been made, but what they did absolutely proves their point. Their "blockade" was absolutley legal because no one on the road other than emergency vehicles should be traveling faster than them. If everyone obeyed the posted speed limit there would be no traffic jam at all, but because NO ONE ON THAT ROAD OBEYS THE LIMIT, the traffic jam occured.

Also, they did this during the middle of the day specifically to avoid ruining the morning or evening rush hour.

I think the point is the absurdity of enforcement. It seems ludicrous for police to look the other way as people do 20 MPH over the limit (75, which is pretty much the average speed on that road when traffic moves freely), but write tickets for 12 or 15 over the limit on other roads. Why not make the limit 65 and write tickets for anything over 75?

As for upsetting the daily order of things...I'm sure whites in Selma, Alabama felt like you did during the bus boycott.
Posted by Majordawg  in  Atlanta  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  01:38 PM
correction "majordawg", you should say "some whites felt like you did" or are you just stereotyping?

and once again, as far as the law, I don't care whether what they did was technically legal or illegal, public roadways are not the place for this type of stunt. Someone could have been hurt or killed, that is my issue with this.
Posted by Chuck  in  Rhode Island  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  03:31 PM
I wonder how many of you actually drive in Atlanta? One of my favorite expressions here is "73 in a 55 isn't fast enough?" That's because, when I drive 73 (or even 79) miles per hour in the 55 mph speed limit section of road they filmed this on - I'm being passed by cars doing at least 10 mph faster than me! Yes, the 55 mph speed limit is stupid some times, but then so are drivers that insist on going too fast.
Posted by Atlanta Driver  in  Atlanta  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  04:49 PM
My grandmother lives in Atlanta and I visit her a couple times a year. Like Atlanta Driver said, I can be going 75 in a 55 and half the cars on the road are still whizzing past me. I used to be scared to drive in Atlanta and would have to let someone else take over when we started to get near the city.

I have to admit though that I am now over my fear of driving in Atlanta and actually look forward to it. I have developed a bit of a fondness for speed but am trying to curtail it. I think Atlanta is fun to drive now. That is when you aren't in 10 mile long backups maxing out at 17 mph.
Posted by Saribellum  in  Another Time  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  05:27 PM
I got pulled over doing 60 in a 55. Your first reaction is to think for speeding. no, I was pulled over going too slow, in metro Atlanta. No one does 55, NO ONE HERE ANYWAY.
Posted by cgantt  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  05:44 PM
Okay, I'm an Atlanta driver. And I agree completely with these kids. The speed limit on the perimeter is rediculous. 55 mph. Everyone goes 75-85 easy. And then one day its not okay to drive fast because some Cop needs to fill his quota. This video proves a point to Atlanta and should be an example to all cities that the speed limit needs to be changed because the day you get a ticket because you were traveling at a normal speed... you are now 20 over the speed limit and looking at license suspension. Congrats to the GA State students!
Posted by Josh L.  in  Atlanta, GA  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  09:53 PM
Just to give a final update on this matter, I just read an article in the AJC where they interviewed a guy from the Dept. of Transportation. He said that what they did was perfectly legal. Only if they had attempted to block emergency vehicles would it have been illegal. The students did have a contingency plan in case there were emergency vehicles or if any of them felt too threatened, etc.

As a personal sidebar, what difference does it make if people driving the speed limit (obeying the law) clog up traffic or an accident clogs up traffic? Even in the instance of emergency vehicles, neither makes it any more difficult for them to respond. In the event of an accident clogging up traffic, it makes it impossible for them to respond. As an Atlanta driver, this "road block" is no different from any other time of the day!
Posted by Joe  in  Atlanta  on  Fri Mar 03, 2006  at  10:39 PM
I really wish people would do this all over the US , the 55 & 65 posted limits would be raised to all the controlled access highways design speed of at least 75 mph over night .

Here , here good for them . 75 mph should be the posted limit on all interstates rural in the US . In thje middle of noware and otherwise .
Posted by acorn  in  Denver CO & Mooresville NC  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  01:17 AM
I think many of you are missing the point the stupidity of the 55 mph posted limit on a highway where the 85 percentile is in the 75 mph range .

Which is what the road should be posted at . If traffic is heavy people will slow down to accomadate the extra traffic flow . Once the road empties it should be back up to 75 mph .

I've driven on those highways and anything below a 75 mph posted limit is just a money maker for the cities and the state of GA , and has nothing at all to do with safety NOTHING AT ALL !~!!!!!!
Posted by acorn  in  Denver CO & Mooresville NC  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  01:42 AM
Oh by the way the NMSL was abbolished in December of 95 . Since that date any state can set any limit they wish on any highway they wish , or do like Montana did remove all limits on all roads for 6 years ( 95 to 01 ) .

So if GA wanted to they could post any highway whatever they wish 55 , 65 , 75 , 80 , 85 or No Speed Limit , it is completely up to the states now and has been for over 10 years .
Posted by acorn  in  Denver CO & Mooresville NC  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  01:49 AM
If speed limits are for safety, on a level that prevents the 40,000 deaths/year from car accidents from being any greater, and yet people routinely break speed laws, than what is obviously needed is not higher speed laws, but devices in cars which won't let you drive faster than the speed limit.

We accept much tighter restrictions on our personal lives than speed-governers in the spirit of public safety, and with far less statistical surety; why not make it impossible to speed?
Posted by cvirtue  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  02:46 AM
You can argue all you want, but they won't get prosecuted for this anyway. Can you really see this happening?
Posted by Alun  in  Wales, UK  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  04:53 AM
these kids are just nerd asses that never got dates in highschool and probably attend college and have no friends. Bunch of fags that take things to seriously.
Posted by joker  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  06:55 AM
this is definitly breaking the law. They cant disrupt what everyone is trying to do. Some people are trying to get to work and im pretty sure they got sued by those people for blockading.
Posted by asdfgh  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  06:58 AM
OK, here's one more partially-informed opinion.
1. The first law of driving is really a principle, drive defensively and responsibly. All the specifics, including speed limits, not only flow from that, they come after that. Most state driving statutes start by saying that every driver is first responsible for driving in a manner that is consistent with ongoing road and weather conditions then and there. Any specific posted signs must be interpreted within that context.
2. While that usually ends up meaning "drive slower if the weather or general driving conditions make the legal limit unsafe," I believe it's possible to make a reasonable argument (see the emergency vehicles stuck at the back of the pack argument mentioned in another posting above) that boned-headed adherence could be considered a form of reckless driving. Since they were doing so in multiple vehicles as a group, that could be considered a conspiracy to obstruct traffic (especially emergency vehicles), so the crime could be worse. They wouldn't have to know an ambulance on call was being blocked -- how could they possibly know who was blocked far back in a traffic jam they intentionally caused? -- it's sufficient to show that they intentionally caused a traffic jam which a reasonable person should know would block any potential emergency vehicles.
3. Passing on the shoulder, recklessly trying to break up their blockade would not be legal, but that doesn't make their action right. A common fallacy in these sorts of discussions is to assume that if your favorite villain in the scenario is wrong, someone else must necessarily right. To the contrary, very often both or multiple parties are in the wrong. They would be wrong for blocking traffic (they AREN'T cops, enforcing the speed limit or any other specific statute one cares to obsess over is NOT THEIR JOB), and those breaking the law to pass them would also be wrong. Any judge would be free to exercise a certain amount of discretion in judging the seriousness on anyone's ticketed infractions in this situation.
4. Their political motivation may be interesting, but it is simply a form of civil disobedience, like blocking traffic with a demonstration against a war, abortion, etc. You should be commended for your political sincerity and motivation to uphold the democratic process AS you serve your appropriate sentence, commensurate with the infraction you engaged in. The government's agreement or disagreement with any political content to your message or action should be totally irrelevant to both the decision as to whether you broke the law, and how severe any punishment should be.
Posted by Rick  in  Chicago  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  07:48 AM
Can I post one more? The previous was one the legality of what they did, which I judge to be illegal (police could give a ticket for potentially obstructing emergency traffic, a judge could take the opportunity to give them all a good chewing out for taking the law into their own hands, then give them a nominal fine to ensure they don't his words off).

There are all sorts of laws out there, and the police must show some common sense in choosing which ones to enforce at a specific time and place. This is a matter of managing their own scarce resources as well as a matter of maintaining their own political legitimacy. Any experienced police officer, chief, or judge will probably tell you so "off-hours." I believe that's the way it should be in a democratic, free society. Police officers shouldn't waste their time with every minor infraction if it takes their attention away from observing the larger situation if it has the potential for more serious crimes being committed or the public peace being disturbed. This is true for traffic management, crowd control, political demonstrations, public security at buildings, etc. Drawing attention to a 55 mph speed limit is like drawing attention to the percieved injustice of jaywalking ordinances in downtown areas. As long as the police aren't making a big stink about it, you shouldn't either.
Living in a free society means being responsible for your own behavior, and not leaving your brain in a law book. Were the police in that area showing undue attention to the enforcement of an unrealistic law while obviously ignoring the enforcement of more serious crimes being committed under their noses? If no, then why choose this stunt? It really proves nothing.

By the way, there were multiple reasons for the 55 mph speed limit being set at that level back in the 1970's. One was to save gas (this was during the Arab Oil Embargo), because the faster you go, the greater the wind resistance your car encounters. Unfortunately, this law, like many of our laws, was put in place without sufficient explanation given to the public as to the rationale behind it. It might have been better recieved if the legislatures and excutives had bothered to publically explain the rationales behind it.
Posted by Rick  in  Chicago  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  08:10 AM
It amazes me how people are still arguing over the legailty of this when a spokesperson FOR THE STATE OF GEORGIA already said that THEY DID NOTHING WRONG!

Also, responding to joker...

"these kids are just nerd asses that never got dates in highschool and probably attend college and have no friends. Bunch of fags that take things to seriously."

I now quote from Billy Madison..."Mr. joker, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

And in response to Rick...nevermind...it would just take too long.
Posted by Joe  in  Atlanta  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  10:14 AM
'No two vehicles shall impede the normal flow of traffic by traveling side by side at the same time while in adjacent lanes'

1. Two vehicles will always end up traveling side by side on a busy road like i-285 and impede the flow of traffic, if they didn't you'd have people stopping and starting all over the place. Are you trying to tell me you've never driven with a car on one or even both sides of you?!

2. The normal flow of traffic should be doing 55, they're the ones breaking the law if they aren't.

3. Are you saying that people should break the law regarding speeding so that they can uphold the law regarding not traveling next to each other on a road? Doesn't that strike you as a bit stupid? I mean, which law are you supposed to follow? By upholding the law in one way, you break it in another and that only goes to support what these students were saying, that the law can be stupid.

4. What did the students do that was dangerous? Since when was traveling at the speed limit wrong? The only danger comes from idiots who speed and don't take into account the amount of time they need to get somewhere. That van for instance was a prime example of someone who thought that their life was so much more important than everyone elses, that their wanting to get somewhere meant that they could be rude and pushy with other people. It's not just the speed limit that this video comments on, it's the attitude of people in general.
Posted by Becca  in  Atlanta  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  10:58 AM
In responce to asdfgh.

'this is definitly breaking the law. They cant disrupt what everyone is trying to do. Some people are trying to get to work and im pretty sure they got sued by those people for blockading.'

You didn't even think about what to write before your mind exploded onto this screen, did you? Be honest, a mutated monkey exposed to mind numbing toxic waste wrote this for you, right?

Posted by YKW  in  Atlanta  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  11:25 AM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted a Georgia Department of Transportation official as saying, "they didn't do a thing wrong." The Georgia code section about travelling parallel was enacted with bicycles in mind, but I agree there is nothing to prevent its being applied to cars. On the other hand, another Georgia code section dealing with the yielding to faster traffic specifically limits its application to situations when the slower vehicle is travelling below the speed limit.

One of the points made in video is that there is a posted limit, and then there is the REAL speed limit. If the latter is 20 mph faster than the posted limit, going 5 mph over the accepted speed still gets you a 25 mph/over ticket. It ends up being a guessing game about what the local PD allows, and also invites selective enforcement...legally, there is nothing to stop an officer from ticketing someone who is going with, or even slightly below, the flow of traffic.

We'd be better off with more realistic limits, near zero tolerance of anything over that those limits, and then making use of technology to change speed limits (LED signs, or whatever) as conditions change.
Posted by Ed Medlin  in  Fairburn, Georgia  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  01:15 PM
Many people have commented that the difference between the posted limit and the REAL limit is unimportant because they 'know' what it is.

However, this creates a situation for police profiling (on race, age, out-of-state plates, vehicle type, etc) which is unfair and ethically troublesome.

The law is published so that all can read it and know it. Unspoken enforcement 'rules' aren't law, they aren't fair, and they are un-American.
Posted by Aaron  in  Philadelphia  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  05:16 PM
Unfortunately for these "civic minded" pranksters, if this thing ends up in court it won't be the quoted DOT official making a binding decision about whether the law was broken. It will be a *judge.* Whose job is to enforce the law as it is written, not as it is interpreted by a rowdy bunch of attention-whoring yahoos.

The appeal to the "authority" of the DOT official is irrelevant in terms of whether the law was broken or not, unless they call on him as an expert witness.
Posted by intjudo  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  10:25 PM

"Many people have commented that the difference between the posted limit and the REAL limit is unimportant because they 'know' what it is. "

Here in lies the main problem with posted 55 limit we really don't know what the specific limit at any given time . The posted 55 posted limit is not ever the real enforced speed limit on any road but posted on many roads .

All over the US the interstates highways are designed for at least 75 mph and some are designed to handle 80 mph . Which means 75 or 80 is the safe speed for any given stretch of freeway in the US .

I've driven around Atlanta on the freeways many times and 75 to 80 mph is the normal cruising speed on GA freeways .

We know what the posted limit is 55 mph . But what is the real enforced limit at any given time 60 , 65 , 70 , 75 or 80 mph ???
Posted by acorn  in  Denver CO & Mooresville NC  on  Sat Mar 04, 2006  at  10:53 PM
Let's chill out...don't get too flamey, okay?
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Sun Mar 05, 2006  at  09:48 AM
except, you know, they got a rep from the DOT that says they didn't do anything illegal at all...i tend to agree with him.
Posted by that girl  in  atlanta  on  Sun Mar 05, 2006  at  02:23 PM
Eh, I clicked on that video thinking it would show 10 seconds of cars holding up traffic, and instead I got several minutes of smug college kids talking about their "psycho" experience. Much, too much preening and pats on the back that make their whole point even more pointless than it was before.
Posted by Mr. K.  in  Amerrica  on  Sun Mar 05, 2006  at  03:17 PM
People, there's no point arguing about the legality of what the kids did because as many people on here hvae tried to point out, the DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION said IF THE STUDENTS WEREN'T BLOCKING EMERGENCY VEHICLES AND WERE GOING THE SPEED LIMIT, "THEY DIDN'T DO A THING WRONG." I don't understand why the legality of the stunt is still an issue with some people when DOT said it was legal.
Posted by Jimmy  in  atlanta  on  Sun Mar 05, 2006  at  03:19 PM
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