In April, many Canadians often referred to as ‘snowbirds’, take long drives back to Canada from the warm places in which they have wintered. Typically, retirees, they drive cars or recreational vehicles. Presumably undaunted by long driving trips, they are tasked by this annual migratory behavior with exercising their highway driving skills at ‘peak performance’ levels even if unexercised the rest of the year.
Driving back to Canada retirees suddenly face the challenges of highway driving. In one short on-ramp trip, low speed, regular stop/start driving through relatively constant traffic flow gives way to high speed, continuous driving through variable waves of traffic. Cars instantly assume ‘vulnerable road user’ status, dwarfed as they are by the eighteen-wheelers, and double, and even triple-tankers dominating the right lanes.
High-speed traffic flow on multi-lane freeways poses a constant challenge. Adjusting to the higher speed happens gradually but quickly. In a relatively short time, the posted higher speed limit starts to seem slow. Keeping up with the flow of traffic may mean exceeding the posted speed limit.
Exceeding the speed limit is illegal, no matter what everyone else is doing. Every kilometer or mile per hour over the limit increases risk by increasing stopping distance, decreasing defensive driving options if trouble should occur, decreasing the effectiveness of crashworthiness protection, not to mention increasing the chances of being stopped and penalized. But not keeping up with the flow can also be problematic.
In its recent cross-country trip, Delphi’s autonomous car, ‘Roadrunner’, scrupulously attending to the posted speed limits was reportedly greeted frequently with anger and derision by fellow road sharers blasting by it in both the passing and non-passing lanes.
Cruise control, where appropriate to use, can sometimes provide a practical solution, with many experienced highway drivers obviously using it to advantage setting their speed somewhere between the posted limit and the surrounding traffic flow. Yet there are many aggressive tailgating speedsters for whom any vehicle cruising ‘over the limit’ in the left passing lane while gradually overtaking slower moving trucks and cars is an obstacle that must be moved quickly out of the way.
Long continuous stretches of light traffic flow, especially through areas of unchanging scenery, can be sleep-inducing. It is easy to be lulled into a less than optimal state of awareness and attentiveness. Fatigued driving is an ever-present danger. It sneaks up and rest stops aren’t always where you need them to be.
Car troubles are just that. Most gas stations along the Interstates are self-serve fueling stations only. ‘Fuel stops and travel plazas’—like Pilot Flying J— catering to professional drivers are perhaps not well known to regular motorists but offer more services than other brand name gas stations.
US Interstate highways are generally well signed, well maintained and for the most part, litter free. Troubling, though, are the frequently seen chunks of tire rubber from disintegrated truck tires, telling us once again that danger still lurks on the Interstate.