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


I suspect that although the students could be charged that it would be nigh on impossible for any prosecution to succeed. Where criminal sanctions apply any questionable interpretation of the relevant legislation/statute must be applied to the benefit of the person on whom the sanction could be imposed. Hence the students would be given the benefit of any questionable interpretation of the term "impede normal flow". "Normal flow" must have a possible interpretation of flow at legal maximum speed, the students would be entitled to the benefit of such interpretation, so any prosecution would be unlikely to succeed.

Had there been an emergency vehicle which was legally able to exceed the legal limit then there may have been a offence of impeding an emergency vehicle, but that didn't happen.

Really successful public commentary pranks are meant to cause inconvenience and this one was highly successful in doing so.
Posted by Slugwart  on  Sun Mar 05, 2006  at  06:10 PM
Ed said it best - we should post the absolute tolerated speed limit and strictly enforce it. It would be more fair and maybe even safer because it would be consistent.

Also to the Atlanta drivers - of course people drive 85 in Atlanta. People drive slowest in the extreme Northeast, where the roads are most crowded and winding. As you drive South and West, civilization spreads out, the roads are more straight - and people drive like Nascar drivers.

As to the issue of the students themselves, if the police department thinks what they did was ok. why are the rest of you still shouting about it?
Posted by chyca  on  Sun Mar 05, 2006  at  07:25 PM
Cycha is right about Ed being right! It's really not healthy do engender a whole culture where breaking the law is the accepted norm. If the limit's 55, it should be enforced; if 55 is unrealistic, it should be changed.
Posted by outeast  on  Mon Mar 06, 2006  at  01:59 AM
Wow, there's been a lot of fuss over this! Let's try to remain civil to each other, okay?

There are really three different issues being argued here, which have to be considered separately:
1. Whether or not there should be a 55 mph speed limit.
What you decide on this depends on what your priorities are. There is no "right" answer, since either case has its advantages and disadvantages. Faster speeds offer more convenience, and can leave more time for more productive activities upon reaching your destination. Slower speeds are safer. The 55 limit is a compromise between the two, which of course means that it doesn't really fulfill either option. These students didn't really prove anything one way or the other; they just proved that traffic laws haven't really been enforced.

2. Whether the students did anything stupid or unethical.
The students said, "We could have really been hurt" and, "I was pretty sure that I was doing something stupid". So they knew beforehand that they could have caused injuries and damage. On the other hand, they claim to have been doing this all for the public good. Personally, I think that while their stated purpose may be laudable, they chose a poor way of going about it.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Mon Mar 06, 2006  at  04:51 AM
3. Whether the students did anything illegal.
This isn't something to be decided by anybody other than the judicial system. They're the ones who interpret the legal code. Even the Department of Transportation doesn't really have any say on this, regardless of what their spokesman says. Various government departments can say whatever they want, charges can be pressed or dropped, various points of law can be brought up, but none of it means anything regarding the legality of the particular incident until the judge makes a decision.

Yes, the students were going at the legally-posted speed while everybody else was trying to go faster, but this doesn't necessarily mean that what the students did was entirely legal, either. Disrupting the normal flow of traffic can be illegal, even if the normal flow itself isn't legal (as a more extreme example, consider that intentionally running over an illegal jay-walker isn't legal, even though he was breaking the law and you followed all the traffic laws regarding speed and suchlike). This is not at all similar to traffic problems caused by an accident, or by an unplanned coincidence of several cars traveling together at the same speed. This was an intentional, planned attempt to disrupt what they knew to be the normal flow of traffic, performed by people who themselves admit that they knew it could have caused harm and damage.

The legal question at hand is whether that intent, or the methods used to implement it, was illegal; it has nothing to do with the legality of what the other motorists were doing. So, if whichever authorities are responsible do bring the students to court, it is up to a judge to determine whether these disruptive activities were actually illegal. I expect, though, that if it does go to court and there is a decision made, it will be that the students were just stupid, not illegal.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Mon Mar 06, 2006  at  04:54 AM
Let me get this straight, first you write:

"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."

In other words, you seem to say that drivers have a right to go past the speed limit. But then you admonish the pranksters for breaking the law themselves.

Why do you feel that some people get to break the law while others don't?!
Posted by Ima Fish  on  Mon Mar 06, 2006  at  08:05 AM
As a commuter in Atlanta, I'd have every right to be irritated with these students.

In reality, I'm proud of them. It takes courage to make a statement concerning the absurdity of some laws and it also takes committment and risk to change those laws.

You would not ridicule a certain non-aggressive protestor for holding up the regular, everyday flow of business to change what seemed to be absured laws at the time, nor should you do these students. They used a non-violent message to demonstrate a much-needed statement about the ill-conceived traffic plans in Atlanta. (Which, by the way, have been inefficient for years and have been on the state's agenda for what seems like ages).

I also find the argument absured that they created a "blockade." If the 55mph law was deemed appropriate, then everyone should travel at that rate regardless of where they are on the road. In planned traffic modules, I guarantee that the formation the students encouraged is ideal for the legal flow of traffic.

These students were brave and should be commended for their actions.
Posted by Kiera Morris  in  Atlanta, GA  on  Mon Mar 06, 2006  at  11:46 AM
Assuming all the students themselves obeyed the laws of the highway, which, while we're being so pedantic, is highly unlikely, then what exactly was the whole point?? If we're to take this to its most ridiculous [sorry, I think the students beat me to it] then it would be only correct to assume that unless all the students cars were driven by computers, then for themselves to have observed the EXACT speed limit, throughout their jaunt, is an impossibilty. Allowing for a small +/- 3m per hr variance due to either, distractions, glitches and momentary changes in speedometers, human and computer variances, and no doubt many other factors better known to mechanics and physicists, I would suggest it is impossible for anyone to say they NEVER exceeded the speed limit at any stage in that demonstration. Thus, given all these variable parameters, it is really no surprise that the vehicles began closing in proximity to each other?? Occassionaly, without question, some vehicles would be travelling at 53mph, some at 57mph, some at 54, some at 56, and yep, some at 55mph. This would vary as greatly and as unpredictabily as would given any public highway, anywhere in the world, at any time of the day/night. You didn't see them in the video, but actually there were also cars which got further away from that front line. Honest, there was..trust me.

All that was demonstrated by these japesters was that people break the law. Themselves included. Wow! Thank god, at last I know......hmmm

Nothing about speed laws and their supposed irrelevance was proved in any shape or form. Good work, as I'd expect from students with nothing better to do with their time.
Posted by Eddie  in  Earth  on  Mon Mar 06, 2006  at  01:32 PM
What do you mean, nothing was proved? Did you not see the thousands of cars behind them, and the fury expressed? Every single one of those angry drivers found the posted speed limit irrelevant, or else they'd have nothing to be mad about.

Oh, and I'm guessing that you've never been to school past high school yourself -- otherwise you'd know that for almost all college/university students, "free time" is almost non-existent.
Posted by Rig  in  Winnipeg, MB  on  Mon Mar 06, 2006  at  11:05 PM
------ Rig said, "What do you mean, nothing was proved? Did you not see the thousands of cars behind them, and the fury expressed? Every single one of those angry drivers found the posted speed limit irrelevant, or else they'd have nothing to be mad about."

Those very same drivers would have been breaking the speed limit without exception on any given day - and without the students supposedly revealing this to us. Who are these new age students? The Law Enforcers? Er, no they're students trying to be clever, and failing abysmally. Are we trying to say, we all, on all occassions, without exceptions, observe all the laws of the land?? Surely not. All that was really proved was there is a method the students used, on the highway, to make people angry. So, people get angry - not a great revelation to be honest is it? The students placed themselves and the other highways users at danger for no good reason. They could have quite easily stood on a bridge/highway ramp and filmed these 'lawbreakers' ignoring the speed limit, and proved their point with far less danger to themselves, and more importantly to other road users. All they did was prove themselves to be hazards on the road, as bad as those lawbreakers they claim to be revealing. Instead of having free flowing, albeit ignoring the lawful speed limit traffic, they created an nonsensical and plainly hazardous traffic jam on a public highway, when in fact, at that time how could they have be certain that further back that jam, there was not a genuine reason for somebody to move quickly through that traffic? They can't, and will never be sure of their pranks full consequences all those miles behind their blockade. It is possible that injured/sick relative or a pregnancy may have been of paramount importance within any of those vehicles.

If the speed limit was 30, people would break it. If the limit was 70, people would break it. So, they made people who wanted to beak the speed limit angry and abusive. Once again I say, no great surprise is it?

Rig said, "Oh, and I'm guessing that you've never been to school past high school yourself -- otherwise you'd know that for almost all college/university students, "free time" is almost non-existent."

Well ignoring the jibe, now I'm one of those lawbreakers who ocassionaly for one reason or another, good or bad, does not observe the speed limit (to my eternal damnation it seems..) and now working, after spending 5 years at Uni. I do not condone speeding - just as I do not condone drug taking. However, I don't need students causing undue distruption on the road, or filming crack users to prove that it is done by some. The very act of this ridiculous stunt I'm afraid proves to me those students had way too much free time on their hands. Sensationalist and irrelevant was my conclusion on their meditation.
Posted by Eddie  in  Earth  on  Tue Mar 07, 2006  at  06:18 AM
Eddie said, "All they did was prove themselves to be hazards on the road, as bad as those lawbreakers they claim to be revealing. Instead of having free flowing...traffic, they created an nonsensical and plainly hazardous traffic jam..."

Well then, that was their point. If everyone travelled at the posted speed limit, there would be a hazardous traffic jam. They could not have proved that without creating the "blockade" first. They've proved that if you don't want a jam of "legal" drivers like that again, raise the speed limit.

I know that it wasn't the safest of ideas (you can see in the video that they thought so too), but their method had the most impact. There's nothing like a sea of honking cars that would make a city counciller change their mind.
Posted by Rig  in  Winnipeg, MB  on  Tue Mar 07, 2006  at  08:51 AM
"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."

Notice the words: "normal flow" in legal-speak is not referring to the way people normally drive, rather it is refering to the speed limit. These kids were driving at the legal speed limit therefore were not impeding the "normal flow" of traffic. They technically were not in violation of this code.
Posted by 911Pro  on  Tue Mar 07, 2006  at  08:53 AM
For those who argue that following the speed limit can block emergency vehicles...

Let's be real here. When a firetruck or ambulance puts on the blinkers, what do you do? You slow down and pull over. That's what the road shoulders are for (instead of having the firetrucks drive on them). You get off the center of the road to make way for the emergency vehicles, regardless how fast you're driving or how many cars you're driving with. How are these students potentially blocking emergency vehicles? I don't see it.

On the other hand, who hasn't see an accident on the highway, and for miles the traffic slows down JUST TO WATCH? People brake below half the speed limit to entertain themselves with upside-down cars that might not even be on the same side of the road, causing huge blockades for no good reason. Then when common drivers like you and me finall roll to the accident scene we take our share of look too before accelerating back up to the normal speed, making ourselves part of the blame for the blockade. And we accuse these students for driving legal speed?
Posted by King of Math  in  New York  on  Tue Mar 07, 2006  at  09:42 AM
Funny thing, because when I lived in Atlanta I always used to think of doing exactly that.
55MPH is rediculously slow that it is dangenrous to drive at that speed.
Posted by AAB  on  Tue Mar 07, 2006  at  10:12 AM
What, if anything, does this have to do with hoaxes?
Posted by Cardinal Feng  in  Charlotte, NC  on  Tue Mar 07, 2006  at  10:59 AM
I doubt that before this incident, there is ANYONE who even knew about the "Two abreast law". I dont think they did anything wrong. I dont know how long they held the joke going for but as long as it was in reason and a motorists were little more than annoyed, no harm was done. They actually prevented all the people behind them from breaking the law so hey, they could be considered a benifit to society.
Posted by captainc  in  NYC  on  Tue Mar 07, 2006  at  03:40 PM
Awesome video...I salute them...I think people that drive 55mph on I-285 for more than 5 minutes should be vaporized immediately and come back as a piece of gum stuck to I-285 so I can legally run over them everyday! As you can tell I travel on I-285 every freakin day and have paid for probably one quadrant of that stupid loop with tickets. Getting a ticket for doing 63 on a freakin interstate...give me a break! The only thing worse than a 55mph driver is the construction crews that like to leave their step ladders and paint cans in the middle of the road. Sad thing is most of the time when they fall off the truck...the truck is doing f-ing 55!!! And yes, I have a slight case of road rage! I am in therapy...lol!
Posted by Anti55club  in  Atlanta  on  Wed Mar 08, 2006  at  08:44 AM
I think these kids were brilliant. I'm so sick of everyone speeding aroung everywhere like its their god-given right or something. If you are going to be late, leave your house sooner and drive the speed limit.Thousands of people are killed every year in car accidents and excessive speed is a common factor. Accidents also lead to an increase in insurance rates. So all of you with lead feet out there,SLOW THE HELL DOWN! It'll save lives and money.
Posted by Joe Q  in  Illinois  on  Wed Mar 08, 2006  at  01:19 PM
The argument about emergency vehicles is ignorant. "Move to the right for sirens and lights!" Cars would have had to move out of the "passing" lane in order to give right away to emergency vehicles whether they are in rush hour traffic or not. Get a grip people, read your Rules of the Road manuals every now and then.
Posted by Aug  in  Chicagoland area  on  Wed Mar 08, 2006  at  07:22 PM
I could get into all the technicallities of the arguement about whether the speed limit should be 55 or 75, but that isn't the real issue here.

The real issue is the 'stunt' pulled. First of all, it wasn't a "stunt" or "prank" it was a PROTEST. A stunt or prank is done with the purpose of annoying people. These kids had no way of knowing that driving the exact speed limit would cause the traffic jam that it did. They had a theory that the 55 speed limit was not being followed or enforced and that if it were, problems would occur. I believe they proved their theory rather well.

The repeated cries from people here saying the students should be punished really shocks me. Punished for what? For pointing out a flawed system? There can be no denial that the system is flawed because either the 55 mph limit is unreasonable or no one is following it. Either way, there is a problem which needs addressing. (as a side note, if all of the traffic had been driving 55, or even a couple of miles over/under, there would have never been a jam, simple science proves that)

Citizens have not only the right but the DUTY to stand up and protest laws that are unfair or unequal. I applaud these students for there ingenutiy and success at proving their point (even if it is missed by most).

To all of you who think "these kids had NO RIGHT to be out there causing problems," I recommend a reading of Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobediance." Martin Luther King, Jr. found it quite enlightening.
Posted by Sole  in  Arkansas  on  Wed Mar 08, 2006  at  08:26 PM
Oh wow. I really didn't mean to climb on a soapbox. It just frustrates me how easily society is led around like a bull by the nose ring. Whether or not you aggree with what these students did, NO ONE should bash them for protesting. (should have just said that and saved some time with the first post, hehe)
Posted by Sole  in  Arkansas  on  Wed Mar 08, 2006  at  08:28 PM
First of all they should learn how to spell "obedience"!!
Posted by Nigel Pond  in  Wilmington, DE  on  Thu Mar 09, 2006  at  11:28 AM
Nigel: if 'First of all they should learn how to spell "obedience"!!' is all you can say about this video, you're missing something.
Posted by Becca  in  atlanta  on  Thu Mar 09, 2006  at  10:54 PM
There are actually two sides to this capricious stand taken on by some very brave young adults. We live in the ROAD RAGE ERA where the car horn has become the latest & greatest of most popular instruments played by 95% of the American populous & the automobile has become the second greatest deadly weapon, next to the cell phone used in an automobile.... all it takes to load the weapon is a stressed out self serving person to utilize both. When stretched for time or running late it is so amazing how long one minute, 60 small seconds takes to tick away, and instead of monitering the true time that has actually passed, a driver would prefer to expound on a false time that causes them to become truly pissed & justifies the egregious maneuvers that ensue in their fully loaded weapons.
Had it not been found out or disclosed that these three vehichles were driving in tandem, there were no laws broken. The most malicious violation committed by these teens was their obvious open show of enjoyment in a well planned experiment. Everyone in an automobile has the right to drive in any lane on a highway at the posted speed. The only violation would be a truck using the left lane (except for passing) which we all know they have been doing for years.
The other (and larger problem) is the resistance of local law officials to compassionately work with the public in making changes when a problem is identified instead of feeling as though we are attempting to usurp their athority. Enforcing laws is the easiest part, working to change those laws that are antiquated, outdated, or flawed is the real job. Most people who stick their necks out to identify a need for change or improvement are merely asking for the help & assistance of those that we rely on to make change.
The unfortunate part of this act is that all it seemed to do was cause a mass outpouring of irritated civillians............ nice job guys. Keep trying & good luck!
Posted by Brian S Pandora  in  Illinois  on  Sun Mar 12, 2006  at  01:28 PM
One last thing befor someone spell checks my work or comments on the impossibility to live in closer proximity to their job, thus forcing them to drive lengthy distances, our family has a 4 generational history in the Police/Law enforcement community. Who knows better than someone who's pay is docked for showing up 1-2 minutes late for briefing how important time travel is. In this house we have one adult enforcing the law & another (a Registered Nurse) who benneficently argues to change, those needing them, on a regular basis in ways that may cause conflict..... and yes we have remained very happily married for 20 years...... just FYI. Keep up the good work guys, if you are really committed to the cause....... just stay within the laws!
Posted by Brian S Pandora  on  Sun Mar 12, 2006  at  01:43 PM
I am the dad of of of the young people who organized the demonstration and produced the video. I admit to not having been thrilled with the idea, but neither I nor my wife could find anything about it that was clearly illegal. I'm an ex-cop, a former magistrate, a former police legal advisor, a law enforcement instructor, and remain a member of the Georgia Bar. For her part, my wife still practices law, and, earlier in her career, was a substitute judge for the local traffic court. I ran it by some friends who are still on the job, and they weren't sure, either.

There are some details that were left out or incorrectly stated in the news stories, and which, arguably, settle the question of legality.

First, while there is a GA code section that prohibits driving abreast and interfering with the flow of traffic, the kids tried to maintain a staggered formation, and for the most part succeeded. Technically, that would not violate the code section cited by our webmaster.

Second, there is a more specific GA code section that deals with interfering with the flow of traffic, failing relinquish the left lane, etc., but it specifies that this applies only to vehicles traveling below the speed limit. By normal rules of construction, this would mean a vehicle moving at or slightly above the speed limit may hold its lane.

Third, although it does not bear directly on the legality of what they did, it is worth noting that everyone inovolved had been instructed, reminded, and reminded again to put spread the word if they saw or heard any indication that an emergency vehilce, so that the drivers could immediately begin to move the right lanes.

Four, although some stories said the kids drove the entire I-285 perimeter, during rush hour, they actually drove past only a few exits, and at 11:00 AM, an non-peak time. They were more interested in making a point than in ruining anyone's day, and, besides, we all DREAM of being able to drive at the speed limit during an Atlanta rush hour.
Posted by Ed Medlin  in  Fairburn, GA  on  Sun Mar 12, 2006  at  04:20 PM
I believe a local Atlanta TV station did a similar experiment not to long ago. They had a white van with some sort of ID on the roof and was tracked by the stations chopper. Clearly, doing 55 in Atlanta is far more dangerous than doing 85. I do not have theactual statistical data handy, but I think the documented average speed on Atlanta highways (75, 85, 285, 400, etc;.) is around mid 70's.

I think with car technology today (ABS braking and suspension to mention a couple)it is comfortable and managble to operate in the 70 - 80 mph range. Frankly I am afraid to drive much slower than 80 in the left lane.

The bottom line is "show me the money" that state and local police are really after. When getting a ticket it is the usual public safety pitch when they hand the citation to you. Alpharetta is a good example of rountine "predatory" speed traps with 6 - 10 police vehicles on 400. In the mean time, thieves are cleaning electronics out of cars at North Point Mall, great police work guys. Make revenue while citizens cars are getting wiped clean of PC's, stereo's, phones, iPODS and anything else these social thugs can get a hold of.

My motto, keep it under 100 and conduct a random act of kindness when you have the chance.
Posted by Tim  in  Forsyth County (north suburb of ATL)  on  Fri Mar 17, 2006  at  11:30 AM
In response to Rick
Posted by ihop4no1  in  Atlanta  on  Tue Mar 21, 2006  at  01:00 AM
I watched the video. It was great. I spent the next half hour reading all of the arguing. I love it when people argue.

They were doing 55 MPH just like they were supposed to. I see no problem with that. They slowed down all of the other cars to the speed limit. This caused everyone behind them to get mad, but only because they normally did about 75. If all the cars always did exactly 55, the blockade would not have caused any change in the traffic flow. However, the drivers behind them could not get speeding tickets, so they should have been grateful.

They were in congested traffic, so the "two abreast" rule does not apply.

If they got 500 more students and created blockades all along the highway, the traffic flow would improve considerably.

They did not block emergency vehicles. If an emergency vehicle came, they would have let it by. This would require them to speed (see below) but, AFAIK, you are allowed to speed to let an emargency vehicle through.

To let the cars behind them through, they would have to speed, because it's impossible to pass another car without speeding or the other car slowing down. The other cars could not slow down, so one of them would have to speed. Therefore, they were legally required to stay where they were.

So, what they did was perfectly fine.
Posted by Ian  on  Sat Apr 01, 2006  at  02:52 AM
Normal flow of traffic is 55 or less, the law doesn't assume people habitually exceed the speed limit... they did a good thing and it should be done everywhere, especially near state capitals just before legislative sessions.

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.
Posted by Eric  on  Mon Apr 03, 2006  at  05:48 AM
Comments: Page 4 of 5 pages ‹ First  < 2 3 4 5 > 
Commenting is no longer available in this channel entry.