A PSA For the Road (Literally)

Since summertime is here and it’s prime time for people to hit the road—including us—we wanted to spend this week’s blog post on a public service announcement. It’s one short, sweet request—and then, in Code&Quill fashion, we’ll give more detail than anyone asked us to, like good dorks do.

Our one short, sweet request is this: when you’re on the road this summer, please do not rush.

We’re not trying to be your mother or the police; we don’t write this with tears in our eyes. We’ll spare you the drama except to repeat their essential point, which is that a lot of people die on the road (about 30,000 every year in America), and we’d rather you not be among them.

But let’s not talk more about death—let’s talk about annoyances. Road trips can be tough on travelers, if nothing else because driving places takes forever in the United States (where we are). Tons of people don’t realize just how big the continental U.S. is—the road distance from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, about 2800 miles or 4500 kilometers, is a little longer than the road distance between Madrid and Moscow (about 4200 kilometers).

So it’s not hard to understand an American’s heavy foot. Between major cities, there are hundreds of miles of relative nothingness. Some of it is (frankly) depressing to drive through. So we get it: you want to get there faster, and you don’t see the harm in cutting fast through America’s vast emptiness. But we’ve learned a few hard lessons about going fast, and we’ve done some math besides.

There’s virtually no consistent circumstance where going super fast is ever worth it. Here are a few tidy reasons:

One: it doesn’t actually save you time. But of course it does! you say. That’s how that works, because math! Yes, that’s true, but you’re making one big assumption: that everything goes as you plan. As the next reasons will show, going fast has a whole host of disadvantages, some of which bear the added risk of losing you time. Once factored into your calculation, you’re not likely to come out ahead.

Two: you put yourself at greater risk for an accident. This one shouldn’t require much explanation. If you’re going faster, you’re less able to prevent accidents—and more likely to cause them.

Three: you put yourself at risk for a traffic citation. Also shouldn’t require much explanation; police tend to target the fastest drivers. You can’t act surprised if it happens. Then, of course, you have to pay all the costs of the citation: time, money, and pride.

Four: you’re more anxious when you go faster (as you should be). Even if you never have an accident and never get pulled over, you have to be mindful of those risks—and that means always watching your mirrors, never being able to fully relax in your seat.

Five: when you’re anxious, or when you have to “push” the drive at a high speed, time tends to pass slower (in our experience). Because you can’t relax, you can’t “zone out” and let the afternoon just melt away. You labor over every hour when you could have been losing track of time.

Six: even if everything goes your way, you don’t stand to gain very much. Suppose you have 600 miles to travel and you choose to go 5mph faster than the comfortable speed; the difference might be 30 minutes saved. Was that 30 minutes so valuable? Often, it would have been more comfortable to take your time, spend the 30 minutes, and have an easy time of it all.

If you’re Jeremy Clarkson, go ahead and speed excessively over long distances. But only if you’re Jeremy Clarkson and have his reasons.

To leave you on a constructive note, here are our two little guidelines for pacing roadtrips:

One: budget for speed limit plus 10%. In our experience, at least, this is a safe rule of thumb for most American roadways. We say “safe” in both senses of the term: you’re not putting yourself at greatly increased risk of accidents, and you’re not likely to be stopped by police. Though, we should include this disclaimer in bold: obey all traffic and safety laws, and recognize posted speed limits for what they are. Disobey them at your own peril. Our suggestions are based on our observation of reality on the road; we expect most American readers take the same reality for granted, that virtually no one observes speed limits as posted and needn’t do so perfectly to drive safely.

So, if the speed limit is 70mph, it would probably be reasonable to go 77mph. The bolder would stretch that to 80mph, perhaps—and in some places, like the middle of nowhere on a clear day, pockets of traffic will go 15mph over the limit with impunity—but limit plus 10% seems most reliable. At this speed, you can sit back and relax, yet still make decent time.

Two: don’t skimp on stops. The stopwatch-wielding among road-trippers will already know this: stops are where you “lose time” the most, since you’re at a dead stop (not just going slower). Real sticklers, therefore, make stops fast: gas up, bathroom, grab food, and back on the interstate. On long trips, though—trips that will realistically require more than one stop—it’s miserable to cut them all short. What if you want to browse the candy for an extra couple minutes? What if you want to step away and call someone for five minutes? What if you want to eat your food on a table instead of balancing it on your lap while you try to work the pedals?

Spare yourself these extra luxuries. Yes, you’ll get there a bit later—but you’ll feel clearer-headed and more comfortable when you do get back on the road. Cliché but true: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. As a lot of marathon runners could tell you (tell us), the first and most important goal is finishing the race in one happy, healthy piece.

That’s it for now—stay safe on the roads, always wear your seat belts, never drink and drive, and make it a priority to get there in one piece. Back to the creative world next time!

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