Behind the bunched cars was a gathering line of slowing highway traffic. Ahead, the road was clear. Not an accident was in sight.
Yesterday's slight slowdown along Interstate 95 was the work of an 11-car caravan taking Maryland's 55 mph speed limit literally. By being sticklers for the law, the group wanted to make a point that the law should be changed to allow everyone to drive faster.
Local members of the National Motorists Association, a drivers lobby, kept their speedometers at 55 all the way from the Capital Beltway starting around noon to just shy of the Delaware line yesterday, their car doors adorned with signs like: "Tired of 55? Call the governor."
They broadcast a tape loop from an FM radio band saying, "Why are we driving slow? To demonstrate how ridiculous Maryland's 55 mph speeding law really is."
Gov. William Donald Schaefer vetoed a bill in May that would have raised the speed limit to 65 mph on Maryland's rural interstates. He sided with insurance and safety groups who argued that a higher speed limit would cause more traffic deaths and higher gas consumption.
But Charles Terlizzi, who heads the Maryland chapter of the National Motorists Association, said the roads were designed for faster speeds, and that setting a slower speed limit was an inefficient use of them.
After marshaling an 11-car formation in a park-and-ride off the Capital Beltway, Terlizzi directed the drivers to turn on their headlights and spread across I-95 at a speed of 55 mph, but to keep the left lane open for emergency vehicles.
Some drivers switched on their headlights and joined the slow procession for a few miles. Most others passed at speeds that Terlizzi estimated to be around 70 mph, although everyone who passed was breaking the law. Many gave the thumbs-up sign through their car window. He noted only one driver who made an obscene gesture to object and another who leaned on his horn for a loud but ambiguous message.
Terlizzi preferred not to call the procession a rolling roadblock, but "a protest by civil obedience." He is planning another one for November along Interstate 70.
"No one obeys" the 55 mph limit, he said, citing what he said were state Department of Transportation figures showing that drivers drove at an average of 69.4 mph along Maryland interstates in 1989.
"Our laws should reflect the reasonable activity of reasonable people," Terlizzi said.
His National Motorists Association claims 500 members in Maryland, 15,000 nationwide. They take their driving seriously, the Montgomery County man said.
"Driving is more a sport to me than transportation," said Terlizzi, who has taken training in driving pursuit and skid control. "The speed limit does not allow me to pursue my skills to the fullest."
The State Police at the JFK Highway barracks confirmed that Terlizzi's group passed without incident.
The trip to the last exit before the Delaware line took about an hour and 45 minutes, Terlizzi said. For the return trip south, the caravan broke up as its members drove home their own ways at their own speeds.
"I just drove the speed the rest of the traffic was going," Terlizzi said. "It was above the limit."