Confessions of a Speedaholic

Don Herbison-Evans ( )
(updated 10 October 2013)

Despite the fines and the losing of demerit points, I just can't slow down enough and I wonder why?

There are some rational reasons for speeding when driving.

One is because settled areas in Australia can be a long way apart. Personally, I need often to travel between Bundaberg and Sydney. This is a trip at legal speeds of about 15 hours. If I speed by 10 per cent, I can cut an hour and a half off the journey. This is the difference between doing it in one day, or doing it in two, and having the extra expense of an overnight stop. Also the extra travel day going down, and then also coming back up, cuts a week away from home down to a visit of only five days. These are a big incentives to speed.

And then there is money. If your income depends on how many clients you see or deliveries you make, then money is the incentive to speed.

Another problem is that of perennially running late. Some people run late for everything, some for just selected things. I am inclined to be late for interviews, but seem to get to dancing classes early. The unconscious psyche is at work here. The police are going to have to psychoanalyse me if they want to stop me having to speed to get to interviews on time.

Another logical reason to speed is a desire to stay in a high gear. This can save engine wear and petrol, reducing greenhouse gas emission and so saving the planet. Unfortunately the speed required to keep the engine from labouring in top gear in my car is rather above the speed limit of most suburban roads, so this again leads to the sin of speeding.

I have had one minor success. I have managed to break my habit of rushing up to the queue at a red traffic light. I can see that that, while feeling like I am getting somewhere with the rushing, is not actually going to get me anywhere any earlier, and indeed by delaying joining the queue I might actually get there when it turns green and save dropping down to first gear: saving petrol, less greenhouse gas: saving the planet! I feel good about that.

But I can feel that in doing so, I am suppressing a primitive instinct to rush. What is that? Is it from childhood? Go to any school: there are signs in the corridors that say "NO RUNNING". Teachers keep shouting "NO RUNNING". Why do children run everywhere? Is this a childhood urge to which I am still responding? If so, why do I only seem to feel the need to hurry when I am driving a car, but not when I am walking along the street or around the office? Does driving a car cause regression to childhood? The interior of a car is a bit womblike, but then babies don't seem to feel the need to rush about inside the womb. What does it all mean?

But there is a problem overtaking trucks and caravans. Why is it that they go slowly when one is not allowed to overtake them, and they go fast when you can? The only way of not being held up is to overtake them when they are going fast by going even faster.

Another problem I have is that I often get very annoyed when someone tries ordering me about, especially if they try doing it with anonymous signs in capital letters. In email, using capital letters is called 'SHOUTING'. I am inclined to get belligerent when people shout at me. Belligerence was probably not the reaction intended by the sign writers. It is time they learned more about human nature.

authoritarian signs

Typically, teenagers hate authority, and are inclined to do the opposite of what they are told. That probably accounts in part for the higher road accident rate among younger drivers. Personally, I didn't do much rebelling as a teenager, but now I am more mature in years, authority seems to rankle more. Maybe if they asked us nicely to slow down instead of issuing orders and going around with a big stick, I wouldn't feel so rebellious.

I am even more resentful of signs that insult the intelligence. I do not believe that driving is safe if I am one kilometre per hour below the speed limit, and totally unsafe if I am one kilometre per hour over. The probabiliity of an accident does not rise discontinuously from zero to some large value suddenly as one's speed increases through the speed limit, and signs that imply this I find insulting. Driving at any speed, even at one kilometre per hour, can kill.

This raises the problem of fear. Driving is to me a frightening experience. Fear creates an adrenalin boost, and that leads to the 'flight or fight' syndrome. The 'fight' part is presumably associated with the prevalence of 'road rage'. The 'flight' is obviously associated with speeding.

But there is a deeper and more subtle feeling I get: that is being at one with the car. I do not have to think of pressing the break pedal or the accelerator pedal. Rather I think of slowing or accelerating. I become a sort of cyborg. Maybe this is part of the problem, because modern cars never achieve their potential on everday roads. Thinking as a man-machine combination, I resent this limitation. For example, the speedometer of my car has the 100Km/hr mark not even halfway around the dial.

But cyborgs are part emotionless machine, and my human part perhaps resents this machine part. I wonder if road authorities partly understand this by making some road signs mildly amusing or in rhyme, so reminding drivers of their human emotions. Of course these signs also help distract from the fear.

mildly amusing signs

Perhaps the unconscious humour in some roadsigns has the same origin.

signs open to amusing misinterpretations

Maybe as well the feeling of the need to rush is a sort of time-greed neurosis. City life seems to promote the doing of as many fun things as possible: dancing, films, sports, whatever. All these things have to be fitted around necessities like work and shopping. The 'things' are the interest, and the travel between them is wasted time. We want more time to do more of these things. This is greed. We feel a need to minimise time 'wasted' travelling, seemingly regardless of the consequences. This is neurosis.

The Greek poet Cavafy wrote a poem called Ithaca. It is not very flattering about this Greek city, but does describe the wonders of a journey going there. Maybe I should try to enjoy the journey more, and concentrate less on the destination. Perhaps I should read more of Cavafy.

So what is wrong with speed? Commonly, the problem is thought to do with the results of an accident. The faster: the more chance of serious damage and injury. But really the problem is deeper. It is to do with giving other drivers time to react to one's actions. This is about empathy, but not just knowing what another driver is thinking and feeling. This is about second order empathy: knowing what other drivers think I am going to do. This is why accidents happen more to younger drivers. This is because the mental tools needed for empathy do not develop until a person is typically 21. This is the whole basis of the tradition in the western world of 21 being the threshold of adulthood. Second order empathy develops even later. You can tell a driver with second order empathy: they use their indicators before slowing down for a corner, rather than while slowing down. Allowing teenagers to drive is a recipe for accidents. They cannot understand what other drivers are doing, and they certainly cannot understand what other drivers think they are doing.

Possibly this could be partly remedied by expanding driving instruction and driving tests, from just covering the mechanics of driving and the rules of the road, to include sections on self control, consideration for others, and courtesy. Many other attempts have been made to reduce the road toll, all basically to no avail. Teaching second order empathy is the best hope for reducing this terrible affliction of our mobile society.

Drivers can be divided into 3 age groups: youth, adult, and senior.

Youths are well known for their self-absorbtion and disregard for others. Typically they find the real world a bit too complex, so they hide from it in their iPods. Meanwhile they dash about in their cars, rebelliously ignoring speed limits and all other rules

Adult drivers often dash about too, but from a totally different reason. They typically have been seduced by the multitude of things to do in our community, and dash from one appointment to another trying to enrich the lives of their families by doing as many things as possible. Their lives become a jigsaw trying to fit everything in. They typically drive glued to their mobile trying to organise the next babysitter.

Senior drivers are past these dashing-about phases. They are content to trundle along under the speed limit, and be responsive to the sights and sounds of their environment. Sadly their driving style is at odds with youth and adult drivers, who can become totally frustrated by these laid-back seniors.

I should act my age. I'm old enough now. I must learn to trundle.