About the left lane
Saturday, July 28th, 2007
I drove 700 miles yesterday, and for the most part the trip was uneventful. But while driving around DC it became painfully obvious that most drivers in that part of the country (and probably most other parts as well) either don’t know or don’t care how to properly use the highways.
I’m speaking specifically about the common practice of sliding over into the left lane, and staying there, no matter what. Driving 700 miles, I wanted to get to my destination more quickly than most people apparently wanted to get to theirs. So I was doing a steady seven or so MPH over the limit. Nothing crazy, but enough to take an hour off my travel time.
Meanwhile, many of the people in the far left lane were going about the speed limit or a couple MPH to either side of it. As was the car to their right. And the car to the right of that car. Often all the way across four or more lanes. But sometimes with the far right lane empty. This behavior of picking a lane and sticking with it is actually recommended as a fuel-saving tip here.
Sorry, but this practice make no sense from any standpoint. I found myself using the far right lane to pass much more often than the far left lane. And this isn’t safe, because eventually there is someone in that far right lane using it as intended, to move slower than most other traffic. It also isn’t efficient, because rather than being able to maintain a constant speed I had to get on the brakes quite often, then get on the gas, then back on the brakes.
Why are people using the far left lane this way? Do they not know it’s supposed to be left unoccupied unless you need it to pass? Do they simply not want to have to change lanes to go around slower traffic, and thus put themselves where they won’t have to change lanes, no matter what it forces other drivers like myself to do? Do they feel that they’re traveling the perfect speed? Years ago in a performance at Carnegie Hall, George Carlin noted that, when you’re on the freeway, anyone who’s going slower than you are is an a-hole, and anyone going faster is an idiot. Or maybe they just want the feeling of having their own lane, as if Uncle Sam created an entire lane of highway, stretching miles and miles, just for them.
The in and outs of personal psychology aside, driving is most safe and efficient when everyone uses the rightmost lane they can at any given time. When I drive, no matter what speed I’m traveling, I drive in the far right lane whenever I can. I don’t feel I’m less of a person while doing so. If someone wants to pass me to the left, that’s fine with me. It’s not my job to slow them down for their own or anyone else’s good. Excessive speed wouldn’t even be so dangerous if everyone used the roads properly, as I understand they tend to be in Europe.
I haven’t been to Europe. But I have been to western Canada. There, the highways are often two-lanes, with side paved shoulders. Whenever I came up behind a slower vehicle, the driver would courteously pull onto the shoulder to permit me to pass. Something isn’t right when it’s safer and more efficient to drive on a two-lane-plus-shoulders rural highway than on an eight-lane divided superhighway.
You’ll find entire sites dedicated to this driving philosophy here and here. The latter site, whose mission is to get slow drivers out of the left lane so that faster “left lane drivers” can use it, even sells a copyrighted ”Move Over =>” sticker for the top of your car’s windshield. Effective, or so obnoxious that people who might otherwise have moved over won’t? A single quick flash of your high beams generally suffices, or at least should generally suffice, anyway. More worrisome, even the name of leftlanedrivers.org wrongly suggests that if you’re a fast driver, you have the right to permanently occupy the left lane. Sorry, but if the right lane is clear, you should be in it no matter how fast you’re traveling. There should be no “left lane drivers.” Everyone should be a right lane driver. So my personal position is much closer to that of the former site, driveleftpassright.com.
Clearly I’m far from the first person to recommend “drive right, pass left.” But if my experience yesterday is any indication, the word hasn’t gotten out nearly as well as it needs to. So here’s another shot at it.