I think we all take it as a given that Georgians love nothing more than barreling down the highway at an unbearable clip, risking death and dismemberment to overtake farm equipment and Turkish 18-wheelers by pulling in front of oncoming traffic and veering back into their own lane at the last possible second. It’s what makes intercity marshutka trips fun!
I took several trips from Kutaisi to Shekvetili and back last month. Shekvetili is between Ureki and Kobuleti – it’s basically a long stretch of beach separated from the highway by various nameless interchangeable hotels and guesthouses and a few private homes and farms and some swampland. The beaches are comparatively nice, the shops are expensive, and there’s not all that much to do. Getting to Shekvetili is pretty easy – there’s an hourly Kutaisi-Batumi marshutka that will drop you off anywhere along the road. The trip usually takes about an hour and forty minutes. Once, I got some kind of express marshutka that only took an hour and twenty minutes – it hardly made any stops along the way.
The last time I came from Shekvetili to Kutaisi I happened to catch a ride with a driver on his way to Tbilisi. His car was imported from America, and had miles per hour in addition to kilometers per hour. Of all the metric system measures, KPH has been one of the ones I’m least adapted to (maybe because I don’t drive), so before this particular trip I’d had no real framework for comparing KPH and MPH – in other words, no objective way to judge Georgian drivers’ driving speed.
So imagine my surprise when, after two years, I learned how slow Georgians actually drive!
Basically, this driver averaged 55 mph on our trip. The fastest he ever got was about 75 mph, and that was only to pass another vehicle, after which he promptly slowed down to about 65. At 55 mph we made the trip in about an hour and twenty minutes – which means that the express marshutka that I had thought was insanely fast was probably also averaging about 55.
On an American freeway, the speed limit is usually anywhere between 55 and 75 mph. 65 is about what I am used to, and it’s what tends to prevail on I-95, which is the interstate highway I happen to have spent the most time on because I’ve done the New York-Florida trip several times. On I-95 there are a couple of states where they are really strict about enforcing the speed limits, and driving through them – actually going at 60 or 65 mph – feels like a crawl.
On an American highway, I’m not surprised or uncomfortable if a driver averages 80 mph. I’m not surprised if a driver edges up to 90 or 95, and I’ve actually been in a car that made it up to about 105 before I felt compelled to ask the driver to slow down. So that gives you an idea of my comfort level – 80 or 90 is okay, 100 is excessive, 105 is when I speak up.
(In kph, that’s 130 – 145 for my comfort level and about 170 for my hard upper limit. Georgian marshutka drivers, on the main roads, do about 90. Doing 105 kph on a long trip feels slow.)
America is a very big country, and when you’re taking a 1500 km drive on a six lane divided highway you really want to open up and make some time. It’s not like there’s all that much to do or see in Georgia-the-state or the Carolinas… if the mid-west is “flyover country” then the south-eastern states might be called “driveover country”. Anyway now that I’ve insulted half the country let’s move on.
Georgia-the-country’s roads aren’t very good. They’re bumpy, they’re poorly maintained, they’re full of livestock – basically the conditions mean that you wouldn’t want to drive too fast on them. What seems like breakneck speed on a curvy mountain road full of cows and stray dogs would seem like a Sunday morning stroll in the garden on a well-paved six-lane stretch of I-95 with nothing to either side of you but trees and sound barriers.
This post is straying into the territory of pointlessness… basically I’m saying that while Georgian driving might seem fast, especially for the conditions (road quality, number of obstacles, turns and visibility), it is actually generally much slower, in terms of actual velocity, than driving in America would be. Actual Georgian highway speeds average on the low end of American highway speeds. Who knew?