Passing Trucks on the Highway: Slower, or Faster?

We drove from Vermont to Washington, D.C. and back again this weekend, not only because we are insane but for other reasons as well, which meant that we spent a good portion of the past three days on highways surrounded by huge trucks.  Pennsylvania especially seems to be a breeding ground for semis, trailers, closed lanes, construction, and traffic.  Now, I get that driving past a large, looming, lumbering truck on a two-lane highway at 80 65 mph is slightly scary, so in the face of such a thing should you drive much faster, or much, much slower?

For me, I do not like being next to these behemoths of the byways, so I try to minimize my time next to the beasts by zipping along as quickly as I can whenever I have to pass.  The last thing I want to do when I am squeezed in next to a towering truck is to slow way down to, oh, the exact speed of the thing I am trying to pass, and then swerving right and left like a frightened chipmunk.  And yet that seems to be the strategy of almost all of the other drivers.

I can’t tell you how many times I was following a previously reasonable driver on the highway, when suddenly, as we approached an 18-wheeler, these drivers would suddenly decide that they wanted to maximize their time in the danger zone.  “Come ON!” I would shout at my steering wheel, as I suddenly found myself unwillingly tailgating an erratic car while crammed in between a truck and a guard rail.  “JUST DRIVE!”  I mean, why would you decrease your speed by 30 mph while passing a truck?  This makes no sense!  “Speed UP to pass!” shouts the little winged driver’s ed instructor on my shoulder.

The one time it did make sense was when we followed this one car for several miles past several trucks, and every single time they passed one of the billions of trucks on that particular stretch of Pennsylvania highway they would brake hard as they reached the cab of the truck and keep pace with it for about 20-30 seconds.  This behavior, while maddening and infuriating, was reasonable to do because the kids in the back seat of that car were pumping their fists up and down like crazy in an attempt to get one of the trucks to honk their massive horns.  It was not going well for these kids, so they just had to keep trying, nevermind the long line of cars stuck behind them, unable to pass or drive through.

Obviously I decided to have some fun with these kids, so once the stretch of trucks had died down and they had moved over to the right lane, I sped up and pulled along side of their car while my wife and I pumped our fists furiously in an attempt to get the kids’ Dad to honk his own horn.  Sadly, we were unsuccessful.  The kids thought this was hilarious, but the Dad was on his phone and never looked over at us or noticed us at all.  He did not give us a honk.

Anyway, my point is, WHY?!  I get that, in a dangerous situation, sometimes you want to exercise precision and caution, but I don’t know that passing a truck really requires cutting your speed by a third, does it?  And yet this seems to be the universal response.  Dear readers, please enlighten me.  What am I missing here?  Do you pass huge trucks at 100.00023% of the truck’s speed?  Do you notice other people doing it?  Is this crazy?  Are we all just scared of death?  I need to know.  And if somebody in a car ever pulls up alongside of you on the highway and pumps their fist, just honk your dang horn, okay?

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