NMA E-Newsletter #284: A Needed Change in our Driving Culture

Lane Courtesy should be ingrained in our driving culture as a 24/7 practice by everyone on the road. Yet with the summer driving season upon us and vacation traffic flooding the highways, it is apparent that there is much work to do to educate the motoring public about the value of Lane Courtesy.

Clearing the left lanes to give right of way to faster vehicles improves traffic flow, reduces congestion, helps alleviate incidents of tailgating and road rage, and lowers accidents rates.

Given all of these benefits, why don’t we see more official efforts to promote Lane Courtesy? Part of the answer stems from the misguided notions that slower is always safer and that faster drivers pose the highest safety risk. Here’s an example:

Last year Florida enacted a highway safety law that barred left-lane drivers from going 10 mph or more below the speed limit. Since then only 68 drivers statewide have been cited for this offense. In contrast, for 2013 police wrote more than 270,000 speeding tickets in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties alone.

We’re not surprised by these numbers. Many police officers aren’t comfortable pulling someone over for driving too slowly in the left lane or even someone who’s going the speed limit but still holding up traffic. The police are much more focused on drivers who are traveling above the speed limit, whether they pose a safety risk or not. In a recent news story, Florida State Patrol Sgt. Mark Wysocky said officers have no problem warning slowpokes but “so many people are going above the speed limit the focus tends to be on speeding.”

First, officers wouldn’t be ticketing so many drivers if Florida Gov. Rick Scott hadn’t recently vetoed a bill to increase highway speed limits to 75 mph which more accurately reflects actual travel speeds. Second, the 2013 law mentioned above sets such a high threshold for what constitutes a left-lane violation, it’s practically meaningless in promoting highway safety.

The point is this: Driving educators and police agencies need to work together to foster voluntary Lane Courtesy compliance, not compliance through heavy-handed enforcement. To achieve this, drivers at all experience levels will need to acknowledge the widespread benefits of keeping right.

Nevertheless, some states are trying for compliance strictly through regulation. Georgia recently toughened its left-lane law by making it a violation to “drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation.” The law includes exceptions for things like weather or road conditions, and for turning or exiting to the left. Still, the intent is unequivocal.

Virginia is considering a similar measure, and a Maryland bill has gone a step further by reserving the left lane for passing only, with only a few exceptions. Unfortunately, each of these bills has been stuck in committee for months. (Note: Most states have laws governing left-lane use, but the requirements vary from state to state. Learn more here.)

Given officialdom’s apathy over Lane Courtesy, do such laws matter much in the first place? Motorists don’t go out of their way (literally) to follow them, and police don’t go out of their way to enforce them. So, what’s the answer?

The NMA has long advocated for driver education curriculums that emphasize Lane Courtesy and for public awareness campaigns directed toward both novice and experienced drivers.

NHTSA should scrap its ubiquitous Click it or Ticket campaign along with all other federally funded enforcement efforts, including its offensive “voluntary” roadside saliva/blood sampling operation. Use the tax money saved to implement a nationwide Lane Courtesy campaign that’s at least as high-profile and long-lasting as Click it or Ticket and that permeates driver educations classes. Our highways would be safer for it and driving would become more enjoyable.

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