By on May 25, 2009

If speed killed, we would all be dead. After all, we are rotating around earth’s axis at up to 1038 mph (1670 kmh) and Earth is zipping around the sun at a whopping 66,660 mph (107,279 kmh). Speed’s not a problem. The problem is when we collide with objects that are moving at speeds that are substantially different than our own.  Jack Baruth would have us believe that if we follow the advice he imparts in his “Maximum Street Speed Explained” series, that we can safely navigate American highways and byways, day or night while traveling at two or three times faster than the prevailing traffic norm. Unfortunately, his advice ranges from the obvious to absurdly dangerous (if he’s trying to be ironic or funny, he has very poor timing).

When the misguided double-nickel national speed limit was revoked, freeway accidents and fatalities declined.  When this change went into effect, faster drivers tended not to drive much faster than they already were.  However, the more compliant drivers sped up to the higher norms, narrowing the dissonance between the faster and slower drivers. Accidents declined even though the average speed on roads increased because traffic was moving at relatively constant and predictable speeds.

So when writing a series on how to drive faster, why not impart some advice on the best times and places to avoid traffic, animals and cops so we don’t make a menace of ourselves while indulging an automotive adrenaline fix? I guess addressing this didn’t occur to Jack. Here are a few examples of what we did get:

The obvious:

Your car needs to have its fluids at the appropriate levels, its tire pressures checked and its suspension components torqued. Your tires need full tread, no plugs, no camber wear.

But wait, there’s more:

You, as the driver, need to be alert, sober, rested, and ready to look all the way down the road.

This is brilliant stuff, folks! They really need to start teaching this to high school kids in driver’s ed.

Now for the absurdly dangerous:

Stay to the right . . . We come up on a car-to-be-passed from directly behind. We do this to attract the driver’s attention into his rear-view mirror.

And we mustn’t forget this pearl of wisdom:

Get in the habit of driving on the shoulder. We learn to drive on the shoulder because we’ll have to do it many times in the future, both to avoid panic-swerves and to pass recalcitrant lane-blockers.

Yes, the shoulder, a good place to pass because on US highways there is never any tire shredding debris that one cannot easily see and avoid while hurling along faster than 150 feet per second.

And for night driving, remember:

We don’t use the shoulder at night unless we have to. Confused deer . . . tend to hide out there.

Thank goodness that confused deer know the difference between the road shoulder and main lanes of the freeway. If they didn’t, it could be a problem for someone driving faster his ability to brake or maneuver around in the distance illuminated by headlights.

This next humdinger’s neither obvious nor absurdly dangerous. It is in a category all by itself. I’ll let you categorize it:

Cops expect you to speed in the left lane and they tend to look down the left lane. Stay to the right.

So cops are blind to cars traveling two to three times faster than the rest of traffic just because they are traveling in a lane 15 feet to the right. Uh huh. Maybe Ohio needs to get new cops with better eyesight. In Texas, they’re not so handicapped.

I could go on . . .

Here’s a clue, Jack: this ain’t Germany. American drivers tend to be poorly trained, distracted, easily startled, and unpredictable. Our highways aren’t maintained with the meticulousness required to make them Autobahn safe.  And most of our roads lack the extra high fencing to keep large mammals from using the interstate as a game trail.

When traffic is traveling at a consistent pace and drivers are acting predictably, driving at high speeds on the freeway is a relatively low risk endeavor. But when some jackass thinks that he can weave through the flow at speeds 200 to 300 percent faster without introducing extreme risk to everyone else, no matter how skilled a driver he thinks he is, he is delusional.

Five years ago I attended the funeral of a friend who killed himself in a single vehicle accident while horsing around on his motorcycle. At least he had the decency not to involve other motorists by utilizing seldom-traveled country roads. Of course, that was little consolation to his devastated wife and the autistic child.

If you must prove your mad driving skills, join a club and take it to a track.

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31 Comments on “Drive Fast — Responsibly...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    But when some jackass thinks that he can weave through the flow at speeds 200 to 300% faster without introducing extreme risk to everyone else, no matter how skilled a driver he thinks he is, he is delusional.

    I never got the vibe that Jack was claiming his methods meant people around him weren’t at extreme risk. He just doesn’t give a damn.

    In Part I he wrote, “Sometimes innocent people get hurt—if any of us are truly ‘innocent’ in this world”. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think that says something about how Jack views the world.

    He drives that way because he wants to, and if someone happens to get hurt or die- well that’s just how it goes.

    He once commented that RF didn’t want him to write an editorial about his view of motorists around him because it border-lined on a religious discussion. I’d actually be interested in reading something like that. I think it would explain a lot about why he drives the way he does.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Bravo!

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Mr, Montgomery, you’re far too noble a fellow to want to descend into Jack World. Better maybe to let the whole sad series of articles fade from memory, no?

  • avatar
    kovachian

    Thank you.

  • avatar
    italianstallion

    Thank you. I’m just glad that this series is OVER.

  • avatar
    ashtheengineer

    I agree with the general opinion that Mr. Baruth’s posts were unnecessary, and a rebuttal borders on the obvious. Nevertheless, thank you for providing an official response.

    I do have one point though – how much of the reduction in fatalities after the rescinding of the 55 mph limit was due to this idea that velocity differentials were decreasing vs. increasing vehicle safety? The limit was revoked in the late 80′s, yes? Back when SUV’s were becoming more and more popular, and sedans were safer than any that came before, etc.? Just a point of contention, since increasing speed objectively always leads to increasing risk – reduced reaction time, higher kinetic energy of impact, etc.

  • avatar
    thoots

    “Responsibility.” Indeed.

    It’s everything that Mr. Baruth appears to lack. If he wants to risk his life, I don’t have a problem with it. If he wants to include the rest of us by doing it on the same roads we’re using, it’s not just “irresponsible” — it’s “reckless driving.”

    I don’t support RF’s decision to publish Baruth’s series — it amounts to “how to commit reckless driving.” Or, more accurately, “how to disobey the law.” It’s just not very far away from a series of articles, say, that would describe how to ditch your car and make off with the insurance money. And so on. Perhaps there’s room for “The Truth about Breaking the Law,” but I’m not sure TTAC is a very good place for it. “The Truth about Crime (And How to Get Away With It)?”

    The bottom line is that you only live once, as do your passengers, as do the other drivers you encounter on our roads. Please drive with them and amongst them responsibly. As opposed to the reckless driving that Mr. Baruth has described. Your life depends on it. So do ours.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “Of course, that was little consolation to his devastated wife and the autistic child.”

    It is the ones left behind who bear the real pain and scars.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    I think this would be a better article (or series of articles) if it tried to stand on its own and not as a rebuttal to something else. TTAC should tackle the act of driving from a few perspectives.

    Most of us find a happy medium in between the driving prescribed by our states’ driver’s handbook and by Jack Baruth’s articles. Those of us on sites like these might be 60-70% of the way closer to Jack’s end than most drivers, who might lean more towards lawfulness. It’s time for articles addressed to that group.

    Driver’s ed is just as bad a joke as “pass everyone on the right at 110mph. I never learned lane discipline in driver’s ed… I was taught that I’d never need to be in the left lane because I’d never be doing more than 65. Give me a break.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    My memory tells me that highway fatalities went down drastically right after the 55 limit was imposed. The big mistake was that it was misinterpreted. The reason for the decline was that the number of miles driven also dropped drastically because of the energy crisis/recession, just like this past year.

    During the time of the 55 limit, car safety improved dramatically. And average speeds kept creeping up. The double nickle was repealed, because average speeds had gone up so much, as well as miles driven, yet the fatalities crept downward, because of the improved safety features. And after limits were increased, the fatality rate stayed the same, continued to decrease, and in a few isolated cases, crept up a bit.

    This is not to negate the main points of your article, but to clarify the reason for the falling fatality rate.

  • avatar
    AdamYYZ

    There is a time and place for everything. Jack-assery on public roads is not acceptable. I just want to drive to work and back without some asshat crippling me.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I think the worst part about the series is that is not only below the level of writing normally found on TTAC, it’s also below the level of writing normally coming from Jack himself. I mean this is the same guy who wrote http://www.speedsportlife.com/2008/10/19/avoidable-contact-18-its-actually-rather-easy-being-green-the-case-for-front-wheel-drive/ or http://www.speedsportlife.com/2009/03/05/mustang-red-running-the-backroads-of-ohio-in-a-search-for-the-ponycars-modern-soul/#more-1021 or many more I’m sure.

    The last one in the series bordered on the internal monologue of a man on the verge of a breakdown. Maybe Jack needs some time off, or needs to lay off the morning Scotch…

  • avatar

    Thank goodness that confused deer know the difference between the road shoulder and main lanes of the freeway. If they didn’t, it could be a problem for someone driving faster his ability to brake or maneuver around in the distance illuminated by headlights.

    I burst out laughing when reading the first part of this…

    But the sober truth is that the last half is the golden rule when driving at speed at night. Those two little pools of light should tell you when you’re going fast enough. In fact, they should act as your “tailgating” indicator. However many seconds you have to leave between yourself and the car in front of you in daytime to give yourself ample room to brake, is how many seconds behind your lights you have to drive.

    Of course, the deer aren’t always in your headlights before you hit them. They can always just jump out onto the road whenever the hell they feel like it.

    -

    About the only part of Baruth’s speed-freak series I felt needed no response was Part III… which is the part I think many of us are guilty of. (C’mon… how do you think motoring mags get those sideways shots for the covers?)

  • avatar
    DanM

    Printing a counter-point editorial does not purge your responsibility for printing the original piece. IMHO, you (RH) need to re-assert some editorial discipline and raise the bar on this blog/website to the level it used to be prior to the Motown meltdown.

    This is not a flame; I am still a fan of this site … just becoming somewhat disenchanted.

    //dan.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    Consider the common crab louse. Over time, it adapts to survive and thrive in changing conditions. Today’s crab louse is a great deal more resistant than yesterday’s to pyrethrin, permethrin, and other louse-killing compounds. The most resistant lice survive insecticide dousings and pass along their genes to the next generation; the strongest of those pass along their genes to the subsequent generation, and so forth. More or less analogous adaptation can be observed in most living things, from kudzu vines and durian trees to rats and prawns; Usenet degenerated into a barren cesspool, killing off most of its trolls, but the most persistent survived by jumping to new fields. It is perhaps with this grain of analogical salt that Jack’s missives are best read, if one makes the questionable choice to read them at all. Waders and a suitable respirator are strongly advised, and mental floss for afterward.

  • avatar
    Brendon from Canada

    I appreciate the rebuttal, but it seems that the examples were the least egregious of Jack’s postings…. For example –

    Your car needs to have its fluids at the appropriate levels, its tire pressures checked and its suspension components torqued. Your tires need full tread, no plugs, no camber wear.

    Obvious, yes. But it disqualifies most vehicles a year or so old that aren’t well maintained. Not bad as background information; not sure why it isn’t worthy of posting.

    You, as the driver, need to be alert, sober, rested, and ready to look all the way down the road.

    Again obvious; but still goes to the point of his articles – ie, be aware of what you are doing….

    This is brilliant stuff, folks! They really need to start teaching this to high school kids in driver’s ed.

    I know it’s sarcasm, but it really should be taught (as should proper maintenance); it’s really just paid lip service at best…

    Now for the absurdly dangerous:
    Stay to the right . . . We come up on a car-to-be-passed from directly behind. We do this to attract the driver’s attention into his rear-view mirror.

    While it’s taken out of context a bit, the point remains valid – your better off if the other driver understands what your doing. Predictability keeps you safe(r) – while Mr. Baruth’s postings don’t seem to reflect safe driving in general this is better advice then suggesting that one should sneak up on upcoming traffic…

    And we mustn’t forget this pearl of wisdom:
    Get in the habit of driving on the shoulder. We learn to drive on the shoulder because we’ll have to do it many times in the future, both to avoid panic-swerves and to pass recalcitrant lane-blockers.

    Perhaps a good defensive driving technique (if defensive driving is a worthwhile endeavor), but I ‘d have to agree that this is generally a bad idea…

    And for night driving, remember:
    We don’t use the shoulder at night unless we have to. Confused deer . . . tend to hide out there.

    I used to drive in Northern Ontario a fair bit – and I’d definitely stay away from the shoulders – more because I’d prefer to be able to swerve in either direction should I encounter a moose; smaller animals will generally get run down (while I feel bad for the raccoon family I might run down, it’s not worth risking the swerve). Living in the countryside when I was younger, I definitely saw more animals on the shoulders at night then in the center of the road (granted our shoulders were really only 3 feet of paving past the outside line, then predominantly soft gravel shoulder)….

    This next humdinger’s neither obvious nor absurdly dangerous. It is in a category all by itself. I’ll let you categorize it:

    Cops expect you to speed in the left lane and they tend to look down the left lane. Stay to the right.

    I give…. which category? While I don’t drive anywhere near Jack’s speeds, I’m sure I’ve driven over the speed limit on the highways of Ontario in the past. Cops “shooting” their speed guns down the left hand lane is a pretty common occurrence here. It’s likely that I’ve dodged a few tickets this way.

    In all, while I found some of Jack’s articles less then stellar, I’m not sure that this rebuttal is overly helpful…

    No offense intended – and obviously it’s easy for me to stand on the sidelines looking for things to pick apart. I wouldn’t mind seeing what else the folks here can come up with, though.

  • avatar
    IOtheworldaliving

    I did enjoy the series, although Part IV was the most poorly written of them all.

    Many of the B&B provided a lot of useful information in the comment threads–in particular Chuck Goolsbee and his weblink to his own rules for responsible high-speed driving–which make a hell of a lot more sense than what Jack wrote. So I considered it to be worthwhile.

  • avatar
    Stein X Leikanger

    # ashtheengineer :
    May 25th, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    I do have one point though – how much of the reduction in fatalities after the rescinding of the 55 mph limit was due to this idea that velocity differentials were decreasing vs. increasing vehicle safety?

    I believe you’ll find this compendium of studies interesting.

    http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/enforce/Speed_Forum_Presentations/Ferguson.pdf

  • avatar

    Great article, although the author appears occasionally unsure as to whether he is disagreeing with the ends or the means of my articles.

    Also, I think the TTACers who haven’t figured it out yet on their own deserve to know why I wrote the articles, particularly in light of this “rebuttal”.

    No, I wasn’t “trolling”. Everything described in there is something I’ve done more than once, with success.

    I knew there would be some strong opinions in response to the series. I figured there would be plenty of Internet Tough Guys who claimed they would do everything from kick my ass in a parking lot to run me into a guardrail. I see hard-nosed, take-no-compromises drivers on the Internet every day, in roughly the same fashion that I see their complete absence in the real world.

    What I did not expect was the manner in which people would devoutly, and publicly, wish for the death or crippling of my wife and infant son. People, really. My kid’s already spent weeks fighting for his life in an incubator, and believe it or not, excessive speed had nothing to do with it. Same goes for my wife, who has had multiple non-trivial medical issues before and during her pregnancy. You don’t need to wish any more harm on them. I’ve seen some of the stuff RF’s censored before he got to it. Really, people.

    Those of you who have a personal problem with the articles — the people who have Googled me over and over again, who read every page of my websites in the dead of night, who are apparently calling the Ohio State Highway Patrol bleating for my immediate arrest — just man up and contact me directly. I’m not a terribly private person. There are a dozen ways to get a hold of me. My schedule is public and, as somebody else noted, it’s easy to find out where I live. I’m not wealthy, secretive, or reclusive. Thirty weekends a year I’m standing around a racetrack or autocross course somewhere. Just walk up and carry out whatever threat you’ve listed on the Internet, whether it be “kicking my ass” or any of the other fantasies you’ve concocted behind your keyboard. I don’t require advance notice of your intent. Put on your big-girl panties and come make it happen.

    I’d much rather people take their impotent frustrations out on me than on my family.

    Alternately, you can try writing an article on your point of view, as William C. has kind of tried to do here. I can’t wait to read it.

  • avatar
    Ronman

    Well nice reply to Jack’s series… but i would like to nominate Jack Baruth as TTAC’s most controversial writer and the one that generates the most irritation among the B&B.

  • avatar
    JellyMunchkin

    @Jack Baruth
    Just walk up and carry out whatever threat you’ve listed on the Internet, whether it be “kicking my ass” or any of the other fantasies you’ve concocted behind your keyboard. I don’t require advance notice of your intent. Put on your big-girl panties and come make it happen.

    I don’t harbor any fantasy other than you getting the help you need. All of this–the articles, your comments–point to a man whose enmity towards and disregard for others is at pathological levels and will someday get you or someone else hurt. And by “hurt” I mean “dead.” Swallow just a bit of your bountiful pride, Jack, and admit that you have a problem.

  • avatar
    TZ

    Baruth: What I did not expect was the manner in which people would devoutly, and publicly, wish for the death or crippling of my wife and infant son.

    I find it odd that you object to perceived hyperbolic posturing on a website re: your family when your own behavior is a much more real threat to their safety and the safety of others. By your own admission, luck served a significant role in not turning them into 120mph roadkill on at least one occasion.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Paul Niedemeyer: My memory tells me that highway fatalities went down drastically right after the 55 limit was imposed. The big mistake was that it was misinterpreted. The reason for the decline was that the number of miles driven also dropped drastically because of the energy crisis/recession, just like this past year.

    Very true. The fuel crisis and resulting recession also cut heavily into discretionary driving, which is when fatal accidents are more likely to occur.

  • avatar

    Jack Baruth would have us believe that if we follow the advice he imparts in his “Maximum Street Speed Explained” series, that we can safely navigate American highways and byways

    For the record, that’s not what he said. In part 1 he said:

    The fast-road driver…needs luck. Luck eventually runs out. When that happens, people get hurt. [...] Sometimes people die. You have been warned.

    The articles made it perfectly clear that engaging in such behavior is selfish, dangerous and dumb. Think of these articles as a how-to manual for angry people… and more good reason to stay to the right.

  • avatar
    OB 50

    Oh, wow. You don’t even begin to understand why people like myself objected so strongly to this stuff, do you?

    There are two completely different versions of reality going on here, so let’s try and bring them together.

    Version 1 (Jack Baruth Land): That Jack Baruth sure is a character. I mean, the guy is a little rough around the edges, but he’s a man’s man. He’s got experience! A great satirist and gonzo journalist in the tradition of O’Rourke, Thompson and Swift; some people just aren’t open minded enough to appreciate true original thought. A true patriarch of the automotive world at the ripe old age of 37.

    Version 2 (What we actually get): Jack Baruth is some guy that writes pretty good articles for a car web site.

    That’s it.

    Version 2 is the entirety of my concept of who you are. There is no reservoir of credibility to counterbalance or justify the stupid behavior to which you’ve admitted.

    On top of that, you’ve taken a universally hated archetype, the entitled douchebag in a Porsche who almost kills you on your way home, and put your own face right on it. Everybody hates that guy, unless they are that guy.

    It doesn’t have anything to do with censorship, or starving Africans, or even the actual content, had it been skillfully presented. The bottom line is that we don’t think you’re nearly as cool as you think you are. Definitely not enough to write this kind of “inside baseball” type of editorial and get a pass.

    You’re just that guy.

  • avatar
    essen

    Jack Baruth, you are such a sociopath. Do you realize the irony in what you said?
    “I’d much rather people take their impotent frustrations out on me than on my family. ”
    Most people here would rather you not take YOUR impotent frustrations out on the highway where you can hurt our families.

  • avatar

    Well nice reply to Jack’s series… but i would like to nominate Jack Baruth as TTAC’s most controversial writer and the one that generates the most irritation among the B&B.

    I’m miffed. While I’ll yield the title of most controversial to Jack (at least until Farago publishes my opus, Dr. Bong Explains Driving Stoned), I think I annoy at least as many of the B&B as Baruth does. I know that I irritate the esteemed Editor on a semi-regular basis. How dare you injure my ego like that? My entire self-image is carefully constructed around being a nudge.

    On a serious note, it would be nice to have a discussion on how to speed responsibly. I’m not talking about 2X the speed limit, or passing on the shoulder, but how to maintain smooth, safe and ticket free progress at 10-20 mph above the flow of traffic. I’ve found that finding a wingman or two to work together through traffic helps a lot.

  • avatar

    A great satirist and gonzo journalist in the tradition of O’Rourke, Thompson and Swift;

    I think that Jack’s made it clear that his role models are more likely to be Setright, Baxter and Bedard.

    Since you mentioned Thompson and gonzo journalism, an important fact to remember, akin to never trusting a Merry Prankster, is that Thompson openly acknowledged that about 25% of what he wrote was complete fiction.

    I liked Hunter’s early writing, Hell’s Angels is very, very good but he became dissipated by the late 1970s. Swift was a towering master of satire, he practically invented the genre, and while Thompson had his moments, subtlety was not his forte. He wielded a metaphoric axe, not a swiftian scalpel. Though PJ has his gonzo moments, he’s a better satirist than Thompson and he also is less impressed with himself than Uncle Duke ever was.

    I once saw Thompson speak at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium in 1973 or so. The place was packed. While waiting for him to hit the stage, acolytes had left offerings of joints, pills and other recreations intoxicants on the lectern. During his speech, people rolled bottles of Wild Turkey from the edge of the stage to where he was standing. We were in the front row, doing flaming shots of Chartreuse out of paper cups. Later at a small reception on North Campus, Thompson was verbally sparring with a writer from the radical left wing Fifth Estate newspaper. The guy asked Thompson what he was doing in Ann Arbor, if not to raise political consciousness. Thompson said he was in town to score heroin.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Jack Baruth: the author appears occasionally unsure as to whether he is disagreeing with the ends or the means of my articles.

    Both! For the record: the end is as sociopathically unjustifiable as the means suggested are asinine.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    As I chuckled my way through [Daniel J Stern\'s masterpiece of passive-aggressive behavior], I wondered whether it would be possible to present a truly opposing viewpoint. Where Stern was passive-aggressive, I would describe naked on-road aggression. Where he detailed the joy of impeding other road users, I would detail the joy of treating him and his ilk like cones on an autocross course. And where he was vigorous in defense of my (not his) nation’s ridiculous speed laws, I would be positively vicious in deriding them.

    Good. Now we have articles from both idiotic and dangerous ends of the driving spectrum.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Paul Niedermeyer : after limits were increased, the fatality rate stayed the same, continued to decrease, and in a few isolated cases, crept up a bit.

    First, I apologize for being so late in commenting on this. But, for anyone still following this…

    The National Mandatory Speed Limit was enacted in 1974. In 1987, and act of congress made it possible for some states to increase speed limits on some roads. Finally, on November 28, 1995, the National Highway Designation Act fully repealed the NMSL by returning power to the states to set their own speed limits.

    From 1994 to 1995 traffic fatalities and the number of fatal accidents increased 2.7% (rates of fatalities and fatal accidents remained flat year over year). However, this really cannot be attributed to repeal of the NMSL. Only 6 states changed their speed limits during 1995 as a result of the repeal — all enacted in December. This is hardly enough time for the speed limit changes to impact 1995 fatality stats. Most states had already upped their maximum limits to 65 mph under the 1987 law. 24 states upped their limits AFTER 1995 (many in 1996) and 15 at still at pre-1995 speed limits.

    The bottom line is that from 1994 (the year before the 55 mph national speed limit was revoked and the oldest data available in NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System) to 2007 (the last year data is available) the number of fatal crashes per 100,000 registered vehicles has declined 23% (from 18.83 to 14.56 per 100k vehicles).


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