Can I Have Everyone’s Attention, Please? It’s About That Left Lane Thing!
by Bill Stephens
OK, I have to vent. Please allow me. In the end, this will benefit everyone and make the world a better place to live. Actually, a better place to drive. And maybe not the world, just the US of A.
Let me get right to the point.
Has the term “lane discipline” ever crossed your path and if it has, do you understand what it means? I encourage you to read on.
Way back during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower was a five-star general and an American war hero who was an immense cog in the Allied military power structure. As the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, his brilliant leadership and offensive strategy in the European theater was instrumental in our victory over Germany and the Nazi regime.
While in Germany, however, Eisenhower became fascinated with the German network of multi-lane highways that Hitler had constructed across the country to expedite the movement of troops and war materials to various battlefronts. The Autobahn was a marvel of engineering, allowing civilian and military vehicles to move at rapid speeds with relative safety, based on a graduation of lane usage according to the speeds vehicles traveled.
In other words, the right lanes were for travel at the prevailing speeds of the majority of traffic. The left lane—or lanes—were for passing traffic, allowing the safe overtaking of slower vehicles without the risky practice of passing on the right, which would place the faster vehicles in the “blind spot” to the right-rear of the vehicles being overtaken. Follow me so far?
When Eisenhower was elected President of the United States in 1952, one of his most monumental domestic achievements was to push through legislation for the Interstate Highway System, modeled after the German Autobahn, which would give this country a vast intersecting matrix of three, four and in some cases, five lane superhighways from coast to coast. And like the Autobahn, the lanes would be designed to organize traffic into graduated patterns of speed, dictating that drivers traveling at “safe and reasonable speeds” keep right while drivers wishing to pass could do so safely in the left lanes.
Today, the whole principle of lane discipline, defined here as traveling in the right or center lanes, passing on the left and then moving back into the prevailing travel lanes is either unknown or ignored. Observe, as I have, how drivers perceive the left lane of a multi-lane highway as the best place to drive regardless of faster traffic approaching from behind and you’ll see how ol’ Dwight D’s vision for our transcontinental future has been derailed. There are signs prominently posted on such highways as the New Jersey Turnpike, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and even on Interstate Route 95 in the Northeast Corridor—where I do a lot of driving—which instruct drivers to “Keep Right Except To Pass”, or “Slower Traffic Keep Right” or “No Passing On Right”, and yet, the left lane is riddled with drivers unaware or unconcerned that unless they’re passing slower traffic, they’re in the wrong lane.
Ever notice signs like these? Drivers in the left lane refusing to move over for faster traffic obviously haven’t. Or would rather ignore them altogether. The sign at the extreme right, however good natured, is probably ignored, too.
And there are those who wonder where “Road Rage” comes from.
Now, please, don’t make the argument that, “Hey, I’m doing the speed limit. Why should anyone have to pass me?” Sounds logical, but that idea is entirely beyond the realm of reality. First, traffic study after traffic study has shown that the overwhelming majority of drivers traveling on multi-lane roads do so at speeds at which “they feel most comfortable, not at the posted speed limits.” Ever notice that traffic on highways where the speed limit is 65 miles-per-hour is teeming with drivers going 75? These are not Hell-Bent-for Leather, suicidal maniacs endangering the lives and limbs of fellow motorists (although there are whackos out there traveling at just about any speed you can name). These are, in the main, sensible drivers operating their vehicles at the speeds confluent with the speeds of other vehicles around them and at which they feel comfortable.
Have you also noticed that those same highways where drivers are not religiously observing the posted speed limits aren’t littered with smoking wrecks every ½-mile or so? Well, those same traffic studies mentioned previously have revealed that driving 10-15 miles-per-hour over the speed limit is NOT one of the leading causes of highway accidents, but rather driving drunk, lack of concentration, and failure to use directionals when changing lanes are usually the major culprits.
Which also explains how even law enforcement understands that reality and in most states uses the “10-15 over” rule when determining who should be cited for speeding. If the prevailing speed of traffic is 75 miles-per-hour in a 65 mile-per-hour zone—especially when traffic is light—someone traveling between 75 and 80 isn’t considered a hazard to public safety. Of course, police officers differ and department policies may be stiffer in some places but if all drivers traveling 10-15 miles-per-hour over the speed limit were being stopped for speeding, each and every person reading this blog would have been ticketed at some point.
And by the way, the practice of “flash to pass” is another invention straight from the Autobahn where a politely brief flash of the high beams to a slower driver ahead is meant to remind them to move to the right. No insult intended and it’s worked in Europe for years. In America, the slower driver ahead many times takes umbrage at the notion that they’re being asked to move over and they stay put, filled with indignant self-righteousness.
Can you imagine how smoothly and efficiently traffic would move on any interstate if everyone followed the “Keep Right Except To Pass” concept? Passing lanes would be open, drivers choosing to drive at or near the posted limit could do so in the right or center lanes, and those wishing to pass could do so safely to the left with absolutely no peril directed to themselves or to other drivers and then return to a lane to the right. There would be no oblivious or inconsiderate drivers loafing along in the passing lane, inviting passing traffic to do so on the right, into that “blind spot”.
Well, I’m done venting. I certainly don’t expect to see America’s awareness of lane discipline suddenly reverse 180-degrees and the visions of our 34th president come to pass. I guess the most I can expect is for you to take my rant to heart and think about it. Maybe even spread the word.
Besides, isn’t it ironic that Eisenhower asked us all to keep to the right and he was a Republican. What are the odds?
The next Mecum Auction is coming to Des Moines, Iowa on July 20-21 and I’m sure everyone driving to the Iowa State Fairgrounds to attend will exhibit exceptional lane discipline. If you’re going to join us on TV, watch our live coverage on Velocity.
Follow Bill on Twitter @ultgarageBill