Thursday, June 18, 2009

Road Rage on a Clean Street

Yesterday, while driving to work, I was caught behind the one thing that could possibly be worse than a school bus.....a street sweeper. It was going about 15 mph in a 35 mph zone, slowly moving, its brushes cleaning crap off the road.

This road, which is 2 lanes with a double-yellow, has a lot of traffic in the way I was going that morning, as it heads roughly to the interstate that takes you into Atlanta, but not a lot of opposing traffic. So, it's very easy to pass if you are going around a bike, a horse-drawn carriage, or someone on a wheelchair (what are things that move faster than a street sweeper, Alex?). But, the double yellow line was freaking a lot of people out, apparently, because I was about 8 cars behind that street sweeper, and despite there being PLENTY of opportunity to blow around it, it never happened. The street sweeper is not moving at blistering speeds, so using simple math*, passing should be easy.

Unfortunately, the first couple of cars in this Train of the Damned were treating the sweeper as though it was a school bus, carrying precious cargo. In reality, it's carrying non-potable water and 1 or 2 city employees. But, that did not matter to the first couple of cars. They were going to follow this street sweeper if it was the last thing they did, regardless of all of the honking behind them.

Eventually, the street sweeper came to a 3-way intersection. The driver of that vehicle knew exactly what was happening behind him, and he was clearly trying to stay as far to the right as possible, giving people room to pass, but no good. With the first 2 cars not passing, the subsequent cars were not willing to pass 3 vehicles to get around. But, when we hit that intersection, the driver made a move to the right in the sudden gap, and the first couple of cars got the hint and quickly passed. Every car behind soon followed, looking like one of those mass escape scenes in "Victory" or "The Great Escape".

The truly insane thing....the first two cars, completely unwilling to man up and pass a street sweeper on a double yellow, tore off into the distance, going at least 50 in a 35, hurrying to their destination. They can drive like a bat out of hell now, but when following a slow vehicle, they were pussing out. I thought Georgia was well-steeped in NASCAR culture and would've made that pass 3-wide, on a curve. Yesterday, I was wrong.

*The Simple Math (I'd like to thank my dad, who was, literally, an astrophysicist, for inspiring me to break out the calculator on this one:

It is a simple fact of physics (or calculus, or something) that if the driver you are following is going 10 mph, that driver is only driving a ridiculous 14.66 feet per second. If these people are driving a Town Car (which all old slow people drive), that vehicle is 18 feet long, so they can’t even go the length of their vehicle in 1 second.

So…..if you are second in line behind them, back off to give yourself some takeoff speed, and get that sucker to 35mph, you can cruise at 51.33 FPS, 3.5 times their speed, and literally pass them in about a second from the time you cross the line, to the time you cross back, surely enough time to avoid oncoming traffic. You then repeat this process until everyone has passed this car. This is why every car should come pre-programmed with a Metallica guitar solo, to give you the fortitude to make such a maneuver.

And I did this math recently for a friend who was following a Town Car. I have no idea how long a street sweeper is, so I'm not about to do that kind of math.


  1. Call it 25-26 feet long depending on attachments. Less than half as long again, so 1.5 seconds. Amazing what crap you can find out on the internet.

    What the Kiwi motoring mags call TED (Time Exposed to Danger) is probably the most useful piece of performance statistics any car test can come up with. 0-100 (0-60 in old money), quarter mile... interesting but effectively useless, like Jessica Alba. TED's the 80-120 acceleration time (mph about 50-75?) which is the range you'd typically need to operate passing muppets on the open highway, which is limited to 100km/h. Much of NZ's hwys are one lane each way, particularly in the less populated South Island, so spending as little time on the wrong side of the road is always an attractive proposition.

  2. How totally aggrivating. I hope you didn't let that incident completely ruin your day.

  3. Times like these Steve you need a portable police siren a la Blues Brothers.

  4. The traffic in Atlanta is balls anyways but to be stuck behind a sweeper on top of it....Oy. Great plan though.

    I heard recently that we are #1 for the worst traffic in the nation but ranked 5th for road rage. People are nicer in the South so I guess that's why the offset.

    The only problem with the Metallica guitar solos are once they get in your blood, it's hard to slow back down. And the last time I listened to "Whiplash" on the way into work I told my boss that everyone hated her.

    I don't listen to "Kill'em All" on the way to work anymore.

  5. Simple maths is also a vital component of aiming the artillary you can use to remove such obstacles.

  6. Knifeboy, the rest of the day actually went a lot better, somehow.

    Nat, I want the cop shocks, cop breaks and cop everything else. Oh, and that ram bar in the front.

    Heidi, I'm pretty sure if you read that again you'll see we're 4th. Credit where credit is due! Personally, I think we're all pissed because we can't buy alchol on Sunday, except in a restaurant, and who wants to do that? I like my drinkin' at home!

    Also, if we're this pissed off in Cobb County, I can't imagine how irritable they are in Atlanta.

    Naut, it's times like that I imagine the lock button on my shifter can shoot missiles. Do I make sound effects? Mmmm, perhaps.

  7. I have the shotgun app on my iPhone for similar simulations.

  8. Is there anything iPhones can't do?