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Is it the speed or the distance?

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Recent trips on Interstate 75 from Atlanta to Chattanooga and Atlanta to Macon were a real exercise in chaos at its best.

Those trips are top of mind to me because the interstate is three- and four-lanes wide in either direction. After watching an older couple from Florida leading a parade in the left lane headed southbound while vehicles passed them in the other lanes, I began to notice that was not the only thing wrong with this ride.

Let’s begin with speed issues. The standard rule for motorists is one car length behind another vehicle per 10 miles an hour of speed. I learned that in high school driver’s training. Flash forward to my most recent trip, and there was one vehicle length between cars and pick-ups traveling faster than 75 or even 80 mph.

As a former news reporter for print and broadcast, I have ridden with both local and state police and have seen their tolerance of some speed variations on interstates. But what scares me most is seeing another vehicle following me no more than one to one and a half car lengths behind while we are traveling at 70 mph.

Remember that huge traffic crash in north Georgia on I-75 years ago when, in a fog, there was a gigantic pile-up? Fortunately, those do not occur often, but when they do, the interstate is shut down for hours. Even a two or three vehicle crash can do the same thing especially if there are fatalities.

Have you driven on I-20 lately from Georgia to Alabama and seen the speed limit drop at the state line from 70 in Georgia to 55 in Alabama? Make that the posted speed limit, not the actual driving speed.

Tennessee’s Department of Transportation posts how many vehicle and motorcycle fatalities occurred during the current year on overhead lighted signs for quite some time. Just recently, I’ve noticed that Georgia DOT has begun posting this state’s statistics as well.

Vehicles are built these days not to protect fenders, bumpers, hoods and trunks, but to put emphasis on the cage that surrounds the passengers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-tests vehicles and rates them for their safety performance in protecting the driver and passengers. It is worth going to the web site www.iihs.org to check on their vehicle safety ratings.

The bottom line comes down to a few safety principles. First, it matters a great deal how close the vehicle is behind you, as well as those on your left and right. It is not just the vehicle in front with which you must be concerned.

And speed limit signs are not a suggestion! Rather they are the law, and when you break speed limit laws you not only endanger yourself and others, you run this risk of racking up tickets and drivers license points that can ultimately have a detrimental effect on your vehicle insurance premium and your ability to retain your driver’s license.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or dcolmans@giis.org.


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