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The rules of the road

Last week, I brought up my driving habits and caught a bit of flak from a few folks. (I also implied that the political metaphor was quite possibly a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, but nobody seemed to pick up on that.) That got me to thinking a bit about how I act on the road, and if those who criticized me might have a point.

When I learned how to drive, I spent a bit of time on the local interstate highways. And both my father and my driver's ed teacher told me the exact same thing, which corresponded with the state-issued driver's manual: when there are two lanes to drive in, the right lane is the "travel lane" and the left lane is the "passing lane." If that rule is followed, then how fast other drivers are going is utterly irrelevant. If you're not actively passing someone, then stay right. The only people who stay in the left lane are the highway vigilantes who think that they are going as fast as anyone should want to go, and that nobody should be allowed to go any faster.

With the near-omnipresence of cell phones these days, if you see someone driving dangerously fast (or dangerously period), call the cops and let the pros handle it. I've done it several times -- once a guy must've been doing well over 90 and cutting back and forth between lanes, once for a guy who was drifting all over the road. Don't take the law into your own hands, unless you're ready to possibly trigger a road rage incident.

(Typo in second paragraph corrected)

Comments (28)

In Oklahoma the right lane ... (Below threshold)

In Oklahoma the right lane on surface roads is traditionally reserved for wheel dis-alignments and thus out of play. B.Y.O.R.= Bring your own rockets

Jay, I agree that it is wro... (Below threshold)

Jay, I agree that it is wrong to be a left-lane vigilante. So, do you agree that the left lane has a speed limit, too?

David: yes, I do. And those... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

David: yes, I do. And those who violate it should be prepared to accept the possible penalties. And those penalties should only be administered by the lawful authorities.

There's also the concept of "the flow of traffic" and "prevailing speed." Messing with either of those is also inherently dangerous, and the cause of a great many accidents, than exceeding an arbitrary number by a small percentage.


The only people who stay... (Below threshold)

The only people who stay in the right lane are the highway vigilantes

I think you mean "left" there.

I agree with you Jay, and I... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

I agree with you Jay, and I agree with Dodo David as well, but its up to enforcement officers to apply it.

I believe that Wisconsin has a 'road rage' law that can penalize those that don't pull over for faster traffic.

My wife used to be a left-l... (Below threshold)

My wife used to be a left-lane vigilante, but I kept asking her (repeatedly) which circumstance she considered safest -- keeping a possibly reckless driver close to her by keeping him from passing, or moving over and letting him go on his way.

After I made her think it over a few times, she kicked the habit.

Insomuch as I spoke my mind... (Below threshold)

Insomuch as I spoke my mind on this in the previous thread, I don't have just a whole lot to add here...however...

The concept of the left lane as a "passing lane" moreso than a "fast lane" is nearly universal (or at least was, when courtesy to others actually was commonplace). The exceptions are in a metropolitan area, where the leftmost lane is generally a "thru" lane in which traffic there doesn't have to worry about getting shunted into an exit they don't want to take, nor do they have to contend with merging traffic. Nobody who's remotely normal mentally or emotionally can avoid getting a little perturbed at a vehicle driving 70.3 mph in the left lane passing one in the right lane traveling 70.2 mph, thus holding traffic behind them hostage for approximately 5 minutes.

Now to those who hold the "I'll stay in the left lane as long as I want, but I'll pull over for emergency vehicles....no you won't. You'll be traveling an average of 2 miles before you glance in your rearview mirror, and if the driver of the emergency vehicle actually drives in a safe manner, they'll patiently follow and maybe blip the siren to get your attention (hoping you can hear it over your own radio), at which point you'll immediately hit the brakes, slowing more while you check to your right, and then getting out of their way. Congratulations...you've just cost someone who needed emergency help at least 1 minute, just by following your "I'll drive whereever I want to" philosophy.

That said, a major source of irritation whilst on an interstate/freeway/other four (or more) lane highway, is the person who, while I'm driving a few miles per hour over the posted limit, and in the left lane to pass a slower vehicle, comes up behind me, and before I've cleared the vehicle to my right enough to not "cut in" on him, cuts to my right to pass, despite my directional signal indicating my desire to immediately return to the right lane.

Bottom line: don't "happily motor" in the left lane (at any speed), and don't pass on the right. It's simply a matter of courtesy.

And yes, I'm still one of those people who'll actually drop below the speed limit to stay behind someone in the right lane, rather than pulling into the left and impeding a quickly-approaching vehicle by cutting in front of them.

Not everyone in the left la... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Not everyone in the left lane is a highway vigilante, some are just oblivious due to cell phone use, chatting with a passenger, fiddling with the audio system, or daydreaming.

I have run across real left-lane vigilantes, however. One guy was pacing a truck in the right lane and after a mile of this I flashed my headlights, which got an instant hard breaking response. Obviously this guy wasn't keeping to the speed limit for safety reasons, it was his way of having some control in his life, which likely eluded him except on the road.

If you're a competent driver with a decent vehicle it's hard to keep to the speed limit all the time. Cruse control helps, but often people push the limit by 5 or even 10 MPH. There seems to be enough blatant speeders (+15 MPH) that police don't need to bother with casual speeders to get their ticket quota.

There's little valid statistic evidence that casual speeding is a safety issue. The state needs to have patrols on the highways in order to respond to accidents; speeding tickets are just a means of funding those patrols. Current GPS and mapping technology could be used in conjunction with electronic engine controls to make it impossible to speed, but that would eliminate a significant funding source and justification for highway patrols, so I don't expect government will mandate that feature in new cars anytime soon.

My own two cents, as a Wash... (Below threshold)

My own two cents, as a Washington driver:

I can't count the number of times I've been in the far left lane, traveling at 65-70 miles per hour when the traffic to my right is doing a measly 55-60. Now, considering the speed limit on these roads (I-495 and I-395) is 55, I figure that the person behind me intent on doing 80-90 can damn well chill, as we're already at a speed that's well over what the traffic on the right is dointg.


PW,The person behi... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


The person behind you doesn't necessary want to go faster, they're just using you as bear bait.

Here are some relevant Cali... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:

Here are some relevant California Vehicle Code sections.

The first says, "thou shalt not impede the 'normal' movement of traffic." The second says, "regardless of the speed limit, if you're traveling slower than the flow of traffic, you better move to the right." The third says, "if someone is overtaking you, and they flash their lights or honk, you better get the hell out of the way!"

Consider I-15, a two-lane highway that runs through the desert to connect LA and Las Vegas. The speed limit is 70. The normal flow of traffic in the left lane is 85-90. In the right lane, it's 75. Too often, a mini-van will drift over to the left lane and camp out at 70-75, with some moron behind the wheel self-righteously feeling she's obeying the law. She's not!

When cars approach her at 85, 90 or 95 and flash their lights, she better get the hell out of the way! If she doesn't, she's not only violating each of these laws, but she's creating a safety hazard.

22400. (a) No person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, unless the reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, because of a grade, or in compliance with law.

21654. (a) Notwithstanding the prima facie speed limits, any vehicle proceeding upon a highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time shall be driven in the right-hand lane for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand edge or curb, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

21753. Except when passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall safely move to the right-hand side of the highway in favor of the overtaking vehicle after an audible signal or a momentary flash of headlights by the overtaking vehicle, and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle. This section does not require the driver of an overtaken vehicle to drive on the shoulder of the highway in order to allow the overtaking vehicle to pass.

My 2 cents worth on this su... (Below threshold)

My 2 cents worth on this subject.

Many times on local interstate (speed limit 75)
the right lane moves at 60 mph (heavy trucks with
governors set back & merging traffic). We also have lots of "amateur speed cops" that camp in the left lane doing a nice, safe and sane 68 mph. Of course, they judge their speed by the right lane, so if it's moving slowly, so do they.

I have talked with local Highway Patrol and heard horror stories about trying to get to code 3 calls, but following Cadillac SUV for *miles* before being able to get around. When they pulled the SUV for failure to yield after original call downgraded, the lady's response was a self-righteous "I don't want all those people in the right lane kicking up gravel on my new Escalade".

Statistically, the left lane is where most accidents happen, so it isn't a place to hang out.
It's also the law in most places that it is a passing lane only, unless congestion is so great that passing is not possible.
What we need in this country is much more aggressive enforcement of the simple, courteous laws such as turn signals, left lane usage, following too closely, etc. We need to raise the standard for acceptable driving habits in this country. . .
and get more rocket launchers in the hands of commuters :)

Mac:Oh, trust me, ... (Below threshold)


Oh, trust me, they're going faster. When I eventually pull to the right, they can't wait to get moving. It's DC traffic. Kind of like New York traffic or NJ traffic, but without people who know what they're doing.


Most of these people who ar... (Below threshold)
Tim in PA:

Most of these people who are in such a damn hurry to get some place ususally don't get there any quicker anyways.

I run late on occasion like everyone else, but I know people who drive 80 in a 55 *every* day just in order to roll into the parking lot with no time to spare. If you have to go that fast every day to not be late, for crying out loud leave earlier.

Conversely, I see more and more drivers who seem incapable of going over 45 mph. Most of them seem to be older folks; perhaps the g-forces associated with driving the speed limit are too much for them. If it takes you more than 10 seconds to get in or out of the car due to age, perhaps you shouldn't be driving.

I find the easiest way to enjoy a peaceful trip is to set the cruise control for the speed limit and drive in the right hand lane while everyone else passes me; I almost never have to pass anyone or change lanes.

Tim,Not everyone i... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:


Not everyone is in control of their schedule, so leaving early is often not an option. When schools won't let you drop off your child before 7:30 a.m., and you have to make an 8:30 court appearance an hour and fifteen minute drive away, ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Similarly, when that court appearance runs late through no fault of your own, and you exit the courthouse with only 30 minutes to make a 45-minute drive to your next court appearance or deposition, it's pedal to the metal time.

Furthermore, it is a myth that "most of these people who are in such a damn hurry to get some place ususally don't get there any quicker anyways." Driving 30 miles at 80 instead of 55 saves you about 10.5 minutes. If you don't think that's a significant savings, try telling that to a judge when you're 10 minutes late for a court appearance!

Similarly, driving the 288 miles to Vegas at 90 instead of the speed limit (70), the commute drops from 4 hours to 3 hours. That might not seem important if you're on a gambling weekend, but some people make that commute daily for various reasons. That's a huge savings!

(One can usually surround himself with a small informal caravan of 5-8 vehicles averaging 95-105 through the desert, and save even more time! The numbers protect you from the rare cops, so the odds of being ticketed are slim (tho you don't want to be ticketed at 100+). The driving conditions are so safe that 100 feels like 65 in most cars, and really nice cars could safely fly much faster.)

Agree TIm and many above. ... (Below threshold)

Agree TIm and many above. Folks that trip at warp 9 for one mile on the freeway to get to the next exit are dangerous and wasting gas.

However, If you are transiting, say California from one end of I-5 to the other, 10 miles over the limit will save you about an hour and a half. With the proper vehicle and a properly tuned engine, it may cost 1-2 mpg unless you are encountering many LLV. That's not chump change in time, and if you can do so driving safely (which includes being hyper-alert for STB, with the beneficial side effect of being alert for all drivers and road conditions), what's the big deal?

It's generally easy enough to see the trucks and know when you are going to have to slow down for them passing each other, but the LLV driving their mini van or Sooper sized SUV can be quite annoying :-)

When time is not a factor, I like Tim's approach, though usually I have to set the cruise at one MPH lower than the posted limit to get the desired effect. I also find myself requiring more effort to be aware of what's going on out there, as scanning the 360 seems deceptively less necessary. Lastly, it tends to be a real pain to truckers, so I don't use this technique when there is lots of commercial traffic.

STB - Smokey T Bear
LLV - Left Lane VIgilante

I can't count the number... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

I can't count the number of times I've been in the far left lane, traveling at 65-70 miles per hour when the traffic to my right is doing a measly 55-60. Now, considering the speed limit on these roads (I-495 and I-395) is 55, I figure that the person behind me intent on doing 80-90 can damn well chill, as we're already at a speed that's well over what the traffic on the right is dointg.

What you describe is another aspect of the problem. As long as you are in the left and are actively passing people on the right, you are not a 'vigilante' or a problem, in that case the tailgater is the problem. I don't speed up for people behind me when I'm passing and I'll pull over when I can safely do so. I drove about a thousand miles since last friday. I couldn't believe how often left lane 'problems' would go one speed when there was traffic on the right, but would speed up(so you couldn't pass them) and not pull over when the right lane was open.

I don't speed up f... (Below threshold)
I don't speed up for people behind me when I'm passing and I'll pull over when I can safely do so.

Ditto. However, I do get past whoever I'm passing as quickly as I safely can, and if that means blowing away a speed limit sign in the process, so be it. And I do that even when there's nobody behind me for several miles. I just don't like being next to another vehicle for any length of time if I can help it.

I'm anti-social in other ways too.

I find that if you quickly ... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

I find that if you quickly don't get to 5 mph faster than the person you are passing (regardless of the speed limit) they will speed up to keep you from getting in front of them. Detroit area, ya know.

Back when I was much younge... (Below threshold)

Back when I was much younger and more foolish, I was a left-lane vigilante. Thankfully, I saw the error of my ways and changed.

Now that I have admitted to my past sin, I have a question to ask: What is the legal justification for a motorist habitually violating speed limits? (Notice that I place emphasis on the words legal and habitually.)

As I see it, a habitual speeder complaining about a left-lane vigilante is the moral equivalent of the pot calling the kettle "black".

Still, I consider it foolish and dangerous to be a left-lane vigilante.

Any thoughts on the morons ... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:

Any thoughts on the morons who can't navigate parking garages? Like the idiots who stop just past the entrance because they think they see someone who might get in their car and empty one of the first spaces? --when the next five levels are virtually empty? Meanwhile, they're blocking your left turn into the garage, which has already begun, when the light for opposing traffic turns green and they're bearing down on you?

How about the idiots who don't pull to the right before making right turns? How about the idiots who come to a complete stop before making that right into the parking lot? How about the spastics who can't make a left turn without cutting the corner short and invading your lane? And, ya gotta love the assholes who make a right from the left lane. And why can't people talk and drive? Cell phones get a bad rap, but many folks can't hold a conversation inside their car without fucking up their driving.

I've been wanting to mount a gun turret on my car for decades.

Good question, Dodo.<... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:

Good question, Dodo.

Speeding is illegal. In California, impeding the flow of traffic is also illegal. In some circumstances, speeding to avoid breaking the "impeding the flow" laws is legally justified. It often works as a defence, depending on the judge (or cop).

I habitually violate the speed limits. That is illegal. BUT, in my 30 years behind the wheel, I've had only two speeding tickets; one on a surface street, and one that I attribute to drinking from a bottle the officer erroneously thought was alcoholic--and he needed to justify the stop. In California, I've frequently driven 80 in 65 zones, and passed cops--they ignored me. Once I was pulled over for driving 87 in a 70, and received a verbal warning. It's just really hard to take FREEWAY speed limits seriously here.

The mentality here was summed up by a comic, but I forget whom. Since we spend so much rush hour time at 5-15 miles per hour, we view speed limits as an AVERAGE. Two hours at 10 mph should entitle you to 2 hours at 130--if you can do it.

Dodo David, Of course there... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

Dodo David, Of course there is no legal case for habitually speeding. As far a pulling over for others as a courtesy there is no legal reason in most cases either.

There is also no legal reason to say please and thank you, to open doors for others, to walk to the right on stairs, ...

These are either social courtesy's or conventions and things just work better when they are used.

If you're not POTS you're POTP

(that last comment is not directed at you, Dodo)

For me, it is very frustrat... (Below threshold)

For me, it is very frustrating to see someone just sitting in the left lane and they don't seem to give a @#@# about anyone behind them. Why is it so difficult to pull your butt over, regardless of how fast YOU are going and let the traffic behind you go ahead. The left lane huggers are not in charge of slowing down the traffic nor do they have the right to interfere with the flow of traffic. Bottom line to me, be a considerate driver or get the Hell off the road. Driving is not a right it is a privilege.

Rodney Dill:"As fa... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:

Rodney Dill:

"As far a pulling over for others as a courtesy there is no legal reason in most cases either."

You obviously glossed over the California Vehicle Code sections I cited earlier. Since California probably has more cars on the road at any given time than most states combined, the "most cases" portion of your statement is probably satisfied. Yes, there is a very strong legal basis compelling slow people to get the hell out of the left lane--especially when being overtaken.

I wish more people were familar with those laws.

OK. I admit it. I am a left... (Below threshold)

OK. I admit it. I am a left-lane hog. Mostly because I want to use my cruise control without having to constantly shut if off to let speed scofflows pass me by. Here is a copy of the letter I sent to an Oregon State Police leiutenant:

Dear Lieutenant Evans,

I travel to the Portland area frequently. My daughter, who lives in Portland, gets upset with me because I ignore the signs on Interstate 5 that say "slow drivers keep right," or something to that effect. Actually, I don't ignore them, I just think they don't apply to me. They don't apply to me because I drive the speed limit, or a mile or two above the speed limit. She wants me to get into the right lane behind the campers, trucks and vehicles pulling trailers so that scofflaw drivers in my left lane can break the law.

My contention is that I am not a slow driver. The signs mean to me that those who drive below the speed limit are slow drivers. Since I am not driving below the speed limit, I am not a slow driver and so am eligible to drive in the left lane. I don't feel any obligation to accommodate drivers who break the speed limit.

Since I am on an interstate highway, both lanes are driving lanes as well as passing lanes. Speeders can pass me on the right and contend themselves with the slow moving vehicles. Many Oregon speeders don't agree with my interpretation of those signs. They agree with my daughter. Speeding Oregon drivers can get downright offensive, flipping me the bird, cussing me out and riding my bumper. My daughter thinks I am a stubborn Montana Norwegian. She's right. But that misses the point. So I ask you: Am I "slow driver" or am I a driver "operating a vehicle ... at the normal speed of traffic at the time and place?" Is it against the law for me to drive in the left lane under the conditions that I have described? Or, should I too speed up and break the speed law so as to keep those scofflaws off my bumper?

The Oregon law that deals with this issue does not define "normal" in the phrase "less than the normal speed of traffic." I had hoped that it would read something like: "A slow driver is defined as someone who is driving below the speed limit or below the speed under adverse conditions that a normally perceptive person would consider that those adverse conditions allow."

Yours most respectfully,


Let it be known that given no speed limit, which Montana didn't have at one time, I am an 90 mile an hour driver, should conditions allow. So I have no trouble keeping up with speeders in the left lane. But what does the law want me to do. Should I speed up or give up my cruise control and hang around with the slow-moving trucks?

While driving on the 94 tow... (Below threshold)

While driving on the 94 towards Madison, I noticed that most drivers immediately merged left when they noticed an electronic merge arrow pointing left. Thus, the right lane emptied a whole mile before the actual closing of the right lane while the left lane came to a halt. Is this common and/or a Wisconsin rule?
As a Californian, I am used to motorists waiting the very last minute before merging.

I am one of those who drive... (Below threshold)

I am one of those who drive 60, sometimes slower than the speed limit. Always in the right lane unless passing. Not always "going with the flow" unfortunately. See my latest entry.






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