“What started as an exercise in modifying my own behavior has become an interesting social experiment in watching other drivers react.”
— Leslie Carlson
It’s a major source of frustration that so much time and money is spent trying to make roads safer, yet we could make major progress by simply slowing down.
Make no mistake about it; speed kills (and hurts and maims and terrorizes). We’d be well on our way to Vision Zero if people always drove the speed limit.
When I heard that Portlander Leslie Carlson was making a concerted effort to drive the speed limit, my interest was piqued. I know from experience that driving at reasonable, safe speeds can often upset the norm of insanity and selfishness that prevails streets these days.
I emailed Leslie to learn more her efforts…
What exactly are you doing?
Last year, I started to pay careful attention to the safety of my driving, particularly the speed I was moving. I’ve been working to ensure that I stay under or at the speed limit in my car at all times.
My family primarily gets around on bikes or riding transit, so we’re all aware of how vulnerable we are on two wheels and on foot. And, as people have begun to drive more over the last few years–and there are more cars on the road–it feels less safe for my family to be riding our bikes or walking, even though we’ve done so for years. I’ve been a part of that problem in the past, driving over the speed limit, because I wasn’t paying enough attention or I was mimicking the speed of other drivers. Even though I’m only in my car one or two times a week, I wanted to be a part of the solution, modeling safe driving behavior.
What have reactions been so far?
“I thought I would see a pedestrian killed in that moment.”
Strangely, what started as an exercise in modifying my own behavior has also become an interesting social experiment in watching other drivers react. Every time I’m out in my car at least one driver reacts noticeably to my speed. For example, I’ve become used to having someone 7-10 feet off my bumper at all times. I think that’s the driver trying to will me to go faster, though it doesn’t work. Every couple weeks I get more extreme behavior, like the driver who didn’t like me staying at 25 mph on Lower Division. He pulled aggressively into the oncoming traffic lane at the intersection of SE Division and 34th Avenue and passed me at high speed–maybe 45 to 50 mph in my estimation. I thought I would see a pedestrian killed in that moment. On higher speed roads like N. Lombard of I-84, the tailing/passing/speeding behavior tends to get worse. All in all, I find myself pretty frightened watching driver behavior on at least a weekly basis.
Anyone else doing it with you?
My husband’s a bus driver for TriMet, so he’s already really careful about driving. He rarely if ever speeds. Though I think that’s his training and not him reacting to me. I have heard from a few friends that they are trying it–one reached out to me on social media after a driver passed her very unsafely on E. Burnside.
Any advice for others?
Don’t react if drivers are aggressive. It’s not worth the confrontation. Just keep doing what you are doing and know that it’s the safer choice.
Do you think it’s helping?
I doubt it. Most people are speeding most of the time. It would take more of us to make a difference, I think. What I’m doing is not a solution to unsafe driving. We need better infrastructure, fair enforcement and culture change across the region to eliminate deaths and injuries on our roads. We’ve got to work on systems change for that.
Will you persist? For how long?
Now that I’ve started to pay attention to speed, I don’t know if I could go back to ignoring it! And, if we’re ever going to get speeds down and reach Vision Zero, someone’s going to have to model that behavior. I plan to stick with it.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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