The summer is soon upon us again, and as such, one may notice more traffic on the roads and highways as people take their “all-american-road-trips” around the nation. This is one of the joys of being an American: we can get in the car, the RV, or, if you’re unfortunate enough to be forced to drive one, the mini van, drive across the country without having to produce a passport and experience different cultures while using the same form of money you use at home: the exchange rate remains $1.00:$1.00.
While it’s nice to have this opportunity, it can create congestion headaches for the people who are just trying to go through their normal day; Going to work, going to school, picking up the kids, etc… especially if they live in a city with a major highway or interstate, because summer in big cities doesn’t just mean more traffic. It also means road construction.
This means that many of us who depend on the highway and interstate systems will need to not only deal with the “out of town-er” who drives slower than my mother because they don’t quite know where they’re going, but also the slow-downs created by the government employees who stand along the roadways with signs and cones, stare at the pavement and wonder why it isn’t fixing itself.
To exasperate matters further and cause even more problems, we will inevitably run into the “left-lane hogs”. These are the people who I must pass on the right hand side because they are driving too slow in the left most lane. These are the people who should not be allowed to drive because they’re inconsiderate assholes (or, at least, they’re acting as such). They are the ones who consistently slow traffic down by driving slow in the passing lane, forcing those of us who use the passing lane correctly to slow down and then weave through the right-most of traffic to get around them. These maneuvers typically cause more congestion because people tend to slow down when another car darts in front of them, if only to prevent tailgating accidents. Then the person behind them slows down. Then the person behind THEM slows down, and so on and so forth, until we’re all sitting in the blistering heat of the summer, stopped on the interstate, with our air-conditioners on full blast, wasting valuable petrol, looking at the government employees who have taken a break from staring at the broken pavement that still hasn’t fixed itself to instead stare at us. And this is uncomfortable, because having any large thoughtless bovine animal peer deeply into one’s eyes is extremely unnerving.
When people are unnerved, they get “twitchy”. And angry. And while driving, they fill with road rage, which is unhealthy because it causes accidents, heart attacks, strokes, and messes in which people’s heads explode, either figuratively or from bullets.
Some folks who are left-lane hogs will come up with useless excuses for their actions. They say the left lane is easier to see from, that it “moves smoother”, and that they’re actually doing faster drivers a favor, since the faster drivers don’t need to pull out of the right lane to pass them. These, dear reader, are annoying. Any logical person can see the reasons these excuses don’t make sense.
I take massive issue with this, as anyone with two or three brain cells knows that the speed limits don’t really reflect actual travel speeds. Instead, they are arbitrary, politically generated numbers that have no relationship to real engineering standards. Drive the speed limit or less in a state like Michigan, if you don’t agree with me. One will quickly learn that if he or she is not traveling at least 10 MPH faster than the limit, he or she will likely cause an accident, or if in Detroit, shot or stabbed to death while traveling 70 MPH by someone driving much faster.
A driver going the speed limit in the left lane can be a serious problem. They cause abrupt lane and speed changes, as well as hostility or road rage, which might cause people’s heads to explode, which is even more dangerous if the newly deceased’s car is still moving. Even if our speed limits were more realistic, there is no good reason to remain in the left lane if a faster vehicle wishes to pass you. It only creates friction and makes our roads more dangerous.
In an effort to stem this lane-hogging problem, the National Motorists Association has named the month of June “Lane Courtesy Month”.
Prior to 1973, rural speed limits more accurately reflected actual travel speeds. Slower vehicles driving under the speed limit and had no excuse to block the progress of faster traffic. In 1973, everything changed when the National Maximum Speed Limit law passed, requiring states to post speed limits of no more than 55 MPH on any road. This new law obliterated the idea of lane courtesy because drivers who would have stayed in the right lane prior to the law felt they could drive wherever they wanted, since they could still go the speed limit or faster.
For more than two decades, this behavior was lawfully reinforced until it left an impression on multiple generations of drivers.
Finally, the all-knowing American Government came to their senses, and in 1995, the stupid 55 MPH law was repealed, but it was too late. The damage had already been done. By the time the speed limits were increased, many people had forgotten how to be considerate to one another. This is the reason we have to deal with the lane hogging idiots today.
According to the National Motorists Association, there are four key benefits to Lane Courtesy:
1) You’re Less Likely To Be In An Accident
By not obstructing other drivers, traffic is able to flow more smoothly. When traffic flows smoothly, there is less tailgating, less weaving in-and-out of traffic, and therefore fewer accidents.
2) You’ll Get Better Gas Mileage
Lane courtesy promotes the smooth flow of traffic and helps drivers maintain an even pace. Vehicles use the most gas when accelerating. Less braking followed by acceleration will improve fuel economy.
3) You’ll Get To Your Destination Faster
Yielding to faster traffic reduces congestion. When traffic is flowing smoothly, highway capacity can be utilized to the fullest extent.
4) You Will Not Have To Deal With Road Rage
There’s little doubt that “left lane hogs” are a source of irritation for many drivers. The courteous act of moving to the right can eliminate driver stress and conflict.
I will add another:
5) You’ll be acting within the law. Most states do have a law on the books regarding lane courtesy, though they may not enforce said law very well.
Even if there’s not a law on the books in your state, our society is not only ruled by laws. There are also things like common courtesy, ethics, morals, self-interest and social habits.
If two strangers come upon one another and one of them says “Hello!”, it is considered socially rude for the stranger to whom the greeting was addressed to ignore the greeting: They should address the greeter in return, with at least a smile or a nod.
People forget that while they are in their autos they are still “in public” and as such, they should adhere to civilized behavior. For example, look at the zipper effect. When two lanes are reduced down to one, typically one car from each lane will enter the single lane, one side after the other. There is no law regarding this. It is merely common courtesy.
The main thing is this: most of our driving behaviors have evolved from behavioral patterns into “rules of the road” over the past century. They have become driving ethics.
If one looks at the typical accepted behaviors around driving, one will find that many of the behaviors are not laws on the books; Those that are laws aren’t necessarily adhered to either. When was the last time you, dear reader, drove 5 MPH over the speed limit? This, while against the law, is acceptable to most other drivers. The point here is that lane courtesy will not truly be embraced until it becomes accepted by drivers as the ethical thing to do. The laws aren’t enforced anyway.
When driving on the Autobahn in Germany, its common knowledge that the left-hand lane is reserved for passing. Not driving. This rule keeps the Autobahn safe. Sure, there are accidents, but according to http://www.german-autobahn.eu/index.asp?page=speeds, despite the prevailing high speeds, the accident, injury and death rates on the Autobahn are remarkably low. The Autobahn carries about a third of all Germany’s traffic, but injury accidents on the Autobahn account for only 6% of such accidents nationwide and less than 12% of all traffic fatalities were the result of Autobahn crashes (2004). In fact, the annual fatality rate (3.2 per billion km in 2004) is consistently lower than that of most other superhighway systems, including the US Interstates.
Of course, there are left-lane courtesy laws in Germany, and failing to move over for faster cars can result in heavy fines. It is illegal to pass on the right on the Autobahn. Slow moving vehicles must always move to the right, and faster vehicles may pass on the left only. The only exception is when both lanes are moving slowly (under 60 km per hour, 35 mph), as in the frequent traffic jams. In such cases drivers are allowed to pass on the right, but at a speed no higher than 20 km per hour faster than the traffic in the left lane. Because of the lifted speed limits, one may encounter a Porsche, Merc or BMW traveling at 150 MPH. At these speeds, it is extremely dangerous to slam on one’s brakes to slow down, and thus, if one is piddling around on the Autobahn at 100 MPH and a Porsche rapidly approaches from behind, one should move over to let the superior car pass. This keeps the drivers on the Autobahn safer, while implementing a “Stupid Tax” for those douschebags that are, in all actuality, too incompetent to be allowed to drive a car.
Of course in Germany, not everyone drives. Driving is a privilege there, as the cost of obtaining a license to drive is nothing to be scoffed at. At €1500.00-€2000.00, a German drivers license is a serious thing. This cost prevents “just anyone” from obtaining a license, which is to say that unless you really fancy yourself a driver, you’ll take the trains and buses available to the public. Because of this, the majority of people who actually spend the time for the classes (a minimum of 25-45 hours of professional instruction including lessons on night driving, autobahn experience, in-town driving, and a multitude of other driving situations plus 12 hours of theory) and the fees to get licensed are very aware of the “rules of the road”. I should also state that just paying the €2000.00 won’t insure a license will be acquired. There are still exams to pass (the test for a German driver’s license includes questions about the mechanical aspects of an automobile, in addition to the usual examination on the rules of the road). It’s a serious endeavor that is not to be taken lightly.
So for the month of June, I will personally be adhering to lane courtesy. I will quickly move out-of-the-way when a faster car approaches from behind, and I will expect the rest of the public to do the same. I know, for a fact, that this rule will be broken many, many times by many, many people, probably within the first day. And that’s ok, because I realize we don’t live in Germany. We live in a country that maintains that drivers licenses should be given to everyone, from the doctors and dentists who drive Ferraris to high school students and the elderly folks who can’t see over the steering wheel.
This doesn’t mean that I won’t be honking at and flipping the bird to the incompetents who won’t move to the right lane for me.