I have mentioned before that I have found Cracked.com unusually informative for a comedy website. Not too long ago they ran an article on Five Ways Your Brain is Turning You into a Jerk. Number three on this list refers to Time Saving Bias, the idea that if we drive above the speed limit we are saving a large amount of valuable time.
We all know that driver: the one who’s constantly speeding like she’s a heart surgeon zipping back and forth between two patients she’s simultaneously operating on in different cities. Please excuse the language.
Now, here comes the twist: There’s a good chance that driver is actually you.
If you’ve ever found yourself driving like an asshole, it could be simply because you are an asshole. However, there is another, stranger explanation: Maybe you do it because your brain prevents you from understanding the very concept of time. Time-saving bias, a very specialized bastard trick of our cranial command center, scrambles our ability to estimate the time that can be saved by increasing speed. Basically, your brain is poker-facedly explaining that driving faster will turn you into a Time Lord, and you’re happy to comply in case it’s telling the truth, because who wouldn’t?
The routine misestimations caused by time-saving bias are more common (and extreme) for some people than others, and often lead to speeding and — by extension — all the assorted shithead antics that follow when you wipe your ass with the speed limit.
After reading this, I wondered just how much time I actually save by driving fast. What if I had to drive for sixty miles at a constant speed of sixty miles per hour? I would be driving at one mile per minute so it would take me one hour, or sixty minutes to reach my destination. But, what if the speed limit on the road were 30 miles per hour? Well, then I would be driving at only one half a mile per minute so the drive would take 120 minutes or two hours. If the speed limit were 55 miles per hour, I would be driving at about .917 miles per minute so the drive would take about 65 minutes. If I were in a hurry, I might drive 65 miles per hour, or 1.08 miles per minute so the trip would take only about 55 minutes. Five minutes either way doesn’t seem like a lot.
I sometimes have to drive from Madison to North Vernon as part of my job. The distance between the two towns is around 27 miles. The road is not straight but has several curves and it goes through the small town of Dupont, which has a lower speed limit. It usually takes me about 35 minutes to drive from Madison to North Vernon. Suppose that is the time if I drive an average of 55 miles per hour. How much time do I save by driving faster? If I go 60 miles per hour I am driving 1.09 times faster so the travel time should be .9167 times shorter or about 32 minutes. If I decide to risk getting a ticket and go at 70 miles per hour than I am driving 1.27 times faster so the travel time should be .79 times shorter or about 28 minutes. Saving five to ten minutes doesn’t seem to be worth the risk of being stopped and made to pay a fine.
So, now that I have run the numbers and seen that speeding doesn’t really save that much time, am I going to stop speeding and obey every speed limit? Of course not. If I am going 5 miles per hour faster than the speed limit, my brain is telling me I am traveling at warp speed and who doesn’t want to feel like Captain Kirk on the Enterprise?