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the dangers of driving too slowly

Depending on when and where, driving too slowly can be just as dangerous as speeding. We'll explain why and offer some tips on safely avoiding overly cautious drivers.

Speed limit sign

The slowdown lowdown: why slow driving can be dangerous

When slow drivers linger in the left lane of multilane roads, you may be forced to pass on the right, causing confusion and disorganization that can lead to accidents.

Turning a corner and quickly catching up to a slow driver creates dangers in residential areas, too. You may need to stop suddenly, which can start a chain reaction of braking that could lead to accidents or road rage.

Because of the accident risk involved, it's important to avoid driving significantly slower than other drivers and to stay aware of drivers on the crawl.

For these reasons and more, you'll often see minimum speed limits posted on roads and highways. Those caught driving below the minimum speed limit can be charged with a moving violation for blocking or impeding traffic. In New York state, for example, a first-time fine for driving too slowly is $195 — more than some speeding tickets. And in California, a car on a 2-lane road with 5 or more vehicles behind it is required to pull into a designated turnout area to alleviate the jam.

4 types of slow drivers

Anybody can drive too slowly at any given time, but here are a few groups of drivers to approach cautiously.

The distracted

Driving while using a cell phone can reduce driving focus by 37 percent, according to Carnegie Mellon research cited by distraction.gov. While texting and driving is dangerous for many reasons, driving too slowly may not be one you immediately think of. But the fact is that taking your eyes off the road and slowing down, as you may do when texting behind the wheel, reduces your ability to process other information — like the car that just appeared behind you.

In 2009 alone, 20 percent of accident-related injuries were associated with distracted driving. If you need to use the phone while you're in the car, find a safe spot to pull over.

Tourists and leaf peepers

We've all been on a vacation or driven someplace unfamiliar. The exciting sights can catch your eye and slow your driving as you try to take them all in. The other issue for many tourists is that, even if they want to drive at the appropriate speed, they're simply not familiar with the traffic patterns or legal limits of the area.

The newly licensed

We know what you're thinking: "Isn't speeding the issue for younger drivers?" While going too fast is a major risk with this age group, we sometimes forget about the other side of the coin. Many teen drivers are also uncertain drivers, unfamiliar with the surroundings and situations more experienced motorists take for granted. And these drivers can overcompensate for this lack of confidence by staying away from the gas pedal and causing traffic to build up.

Seniors

The biological effects of aging can lead mature drivers to drive too slowly. It may be because arthritis stiffens the joints, reducing the amount of pressure a driver can exert on the gas pedal. Or it can be due to worsening vision that simply obscures the posted speed limit. Enrolling in a mature driver safety course can be a good way for senior drivers to refresh their skills (and could lead to a nice car insurance discount, too). You can find mature driver courses through the AARP.

Safely bypass slow drivers blocking the fast lane

Because we don't want anyone aggressively tailgating or wildly passing these slow-moving drivers, here are some pointers that could (gently) urge a slowpoke to sashay out of your way.

  • Have patience. Losing your cool won't help. Stay your course for a minute and see if a slow driver will spot you and move over.
  • Flash your lights. Sometimes slow drivers on a long drive simply get comfortable in one lane. A few flickers of your headlights might jar them to life and get them clearing a path in no time.
  • Tap the horn. If slow drivers don't heed your high beams, a calm (non-obnoxious) beep might better get their attention. (If you're anti-honking, you're not alone: some states have laws about unnecessary honking and allow for it only when there's imminent danger.)

Once you safely pass, give a friendly wave to indicate your thanks and to say "no hard feelings."

Slow-driving violations and your car insurance

Since your driving history's one factor in determining what you pay for car insurance, a slow-driving violation can impact your rate much like speeding tickets or other moving violations can.

To learn more about safe-driving techniques, browse through the rest of our safe-driving articles.

Related links

Mature driver safety course
The AARP compiled this guide to help senior drivers enroll in safety courses.

Distracted driving
Find out why distracted driving's so dangerous.