Driving Etiquette: Avoid These Common Driving Errors

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Living by a few basic rules of roadway etiquette can make all the difference between safe, courteous driving — and driving everyone else on the road crazy.

Do your part to ease road rage by avoiding these common driving errors:

Left Lane Hogging

Driver’s ed courses used to hammer home the point that the left lane was primarily for faster-moving traffic — and passing. If you weren’t passing another vehicle or traveling at least as fast as the cars behind you — you were taught to yield and move over to the right as soon as you safely could.

Unfortunately, many drivers no longer yield to faster-moving traffic. Some believe it is perfectly acceptable to stay in the left lane indefinitely, no matter how many cars are stacked up behind them — so long as they are “doing the speed limit.”

But failing to yield and let faster-moving cars get by needlessly increases tension — which can result in unsafe tailgating and passing-on-the-right as frustrated drivers try to get around you. This serves no one’s interests. And while you may be in the right as far as not exceeding the posted limit is concerned, you’re arguably guilty of impeding the flow of traffic, which is both dangerous as well as illegal in most jurisdictions.

So, keep on eye on your rear-view mirror. If someone wants to get by you, let them do so. It’s no skin off your nose.

Moving right and yielding to faster-moving traffic is the polite — and right — thing to do.

No Cruise Control Passing

Related to the problem of left lane hogging is the cruise-control pass. The typical scenario is a two-lane secondary road where a car in the left lane is attempting to pass a car in the right lane. But instead of accelerating to rapidly overtake the other car, then moving back into the right lane, Yertle the Turtle inches forward at a glacial pace — his cruise control set on 60 as he tries to pass a driver doing 57.

Meanwhile, everyone else gets stuck behind this rolling roadblock.

If you want to pass, signal your intent, then move left and speed up sufficiently to get past the other car quickly — even if that means turning off the cruise control and pressing down on the gas pedal.

After executing the pass, signal and move back into the right-hand lane.

King Of The Road Syndrome

It’s extremely inconsiderate to be trundling all by yourself down a two-lane road, see a car up ahead at a side street clearly waiting to make a right-hand turn into traffic — and refuse to slide over to the left lane in order to give the other driver room to enter the road. A related phenomenon is the guy who refuses to use his signal — making you sit there at an intersection until Regal He either turns in or passes you by.

When you see another driver trying to get onto the road, help him out and make room if you can. Move over to the left. And use your turn signal if you intend to make a turn. It’s the nice (and safe) thing to do.

The Stop-Merge

When entering a freeway using a merge lane, do not stop and then pull out into fast-moving traffic. The whole purpose of the merge lane is to give vehicles entering a highway an opportunity to speed up to match the flow of traffic, then safely merge with it. If you stop or slow to a crawl, then pull into traffic that’s going 20, 30 even 40 miles-per-hour faster, you are asking to be rear-ended. Not only do you create a dangerous situation for yourself, you force other drivers behind you to attempt the same high-speed merge from a standing start.

Blinded By The Light

Some drivers like to see where they’re going — even if no one else can see a thing. They won’t turn off their brights for oncoming traffic — temporarily blinding those other drivers. For a moment or two, they can’t tell where they’re going — not a good thing at 45 mph on a winding two-lane with narrow shoulders. So, be considerate — and safe: Turn the brights off when other vehicles are approaching, or when you are bearing down on a car up ahead.

Multi-Tasking Behind The Wheel

When you’re behind the wheel of a car, your main focus ought to be the road ahead of you — and the environment around you — not the radio, not the cell phone or the GPS display.

If you need to make an important call, read a map — or add creamer to your coffee — pull over and do it by the side of the road. You’ve only got two hands — and just one brain. Even professional drivers can’t fully concentrate on maintaining control of their machines while simultaneously consulting their broker or arguing over who gets the kids this weekend. The modern driving environment is fast paced often chaotic. To avoid accidents — and possibly hurting someone — it’s crucial to be constantly vigilant.

Captain Tailgate

When you walk down the street, you don’t walk an inch behind other pedestrians; you leave enough room to avoid trampling the guy ahead — and to get around him, if you need to. The same applies to driving. Following too closely means you probably won’t have enough time and space to avoid slamming into the car ahead’s rear end in the event he brakes suddenly. And if that happens, it’ll be your fault, too — ticket-wise and higher insurance-wise. Rightly so.

Beyond the safety issue, it is also highly aggressive to “ride someone’s bumper.” And leaving aside basic decency, even if you’re Mike Tyson, there’s always the chance the guy in the other car will be bigger, badder, or just plain meaner than you are.

He may not take kindly to being bullied — and may dish some out in return.

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16 Responses to “Driving Etiquette: Avoid These Common Driving Errors”

  1. schwinn8 says:

    A better instruction to the left-lane hogs (and drivers in general) is to tell them that if there is a car behind them, and the right lane is open, then they should move over, PERIOD. It doesn't matter if the car behind is going "as fast as them", as stated above… because they HAVE to do that…otherwise they'd rear end the hogger. In other words, move out of the way ANY TIME there is someone behind.

    By eliminating this "judgement" from the driver in front, the problem is further simplified and people will move out of the way more readily… without having the excuse of "I thought they were going the same speed as me". Think of it this way – if someone managed to catch up to you and be behind you, they WERE going faster already… they had to slow down because of you!

    I don't want to condone tailgating, but I firmly believe this is why many people do it – because driving the same speed with a safe distance seems to imply to the lane-hogger that "I'm going the same speed" so they don't move over. Again, that doesn't make tailgating acceptable, but many people know this is why a lot of tailgating happens in the first place. Beyond this scenario, I really don't see why anyone would tailgate at all? In other words, tailgating appears to be a direct result of lane hoggers… unless someone has an alternative scenario (other than general road rage, of course)?

    Regarding Cruise-Control Passing – WELL SAID! Put it another way, if you can't pass the person within 15 seconds, then don't bother passing them. It would be nice if passing would be limited to 15-seconds per car, or something (for example). I'm not saying that a law about this would solve anything (it won't, since no one would bother enforcing it)… but the point is for people to move and complete the pass.

    Stop Merge – During a recent trip to CA, I noticed a lot of those "metering" devices on the on-ramps. While I think these are rather silly (is it really that hard to get on the highway?!) I think it simplifies the process for people, and provides better spacing. But, more importantly, I noticed that it implicitly forces people to avoid stop-merges. That's an incredible benefit!

    I have often thought that the MUTCD should include a "hash-marked" area in the merge lanes to visually imply "don't stop here" to help do the same thing. People here in MA are absolutely horrible about it, and will stop-merge EVERYWHERE. This needs to stop, in a big way… and if it takes metering-lights, then so be it…

  2. kbiel says:

    Let me offer a corollary to "blinded by the light": If there is no fog, heavy rain or blizzard conditions, turn off your $#@%%#@ fog lamps.

    • schwinn8 says:

      I am one of those drivers – I leave the fogs (or should we say "accent lights") on all the time. I would like to hear a reasonable argument against this for "accent lights" on most factory vehicles.

      In other words, I agree that true-fogs should be turned off in fog-less situations, but I don't get the complaint about factory "fog lights" that do nothing much, really. Mine, for example, don't go past the "bottom" of the stock headlight spread, so what's the problem?

      In fact, even in my slightly lowered car (presumably, I would see more issues with fogs/lights since it's lower to the ground) I find no problem with factory fog lights. Personally, I like them, because police cars don't have them, so when I see them, I have further support that it's not a police car.

      My bigger complaint is from overloaded trunks (or simply blown out suspensions from older vehicles) causing regular headlights to point higher than they should.

      So, I ask, what's the big deal with factory "fog lights"?

  3. jbt56 says:

    In my opinion, many drivers (Clovers, to borrow Eric's expression) tailgate on the highway simply because they're sheep. Many feel insecure if they're not right behind someone else.
    Around town, I'd opine that most tailgaters are simply unaware of the consequences, or just don't think about it at all. There is also the impatient-driver-stuck-behind-a-slow mover (guilty, at times!), but that's usually fleeting- not just 'cruising' on someone's tail.
    For the most part, I agree with Eric, and would welcome some level of 'common' sense on the roads.

  4. schwinn8 says:

    Maybe my fogs aren't as bright as others or something, because I don't see any ill effects from it. (06 Subaru Legacy). It fills in the area between the "bottom" of the headlights and the car, and a little more along the sides, and that's about it… and it's not very bright. It certainly doesn't seem to affect my visibility or this "nearfield overlighting" you speak of. How can I test for this type of problem? Do you have any studies showing this is a problem?

    Increased fuel consumption – yes, techincally… but hardly worth any measurable amount. For example, mine are both 55W bulbs. That's 110W = 0.14hp. Now, I'm not sure how much that equates to in MPG, but considering the car has a peak of 300hp (yes, it's modified) that's hardly worth anything, really. In other words, let's say I'm in my 200hp area for power during cruising… I'd have to use 0.14 / 200 = 0.07% more output to make up for this loss. Round everything up and even if we crazy-conservatively say it's 0.5% more consumption, in my 25mpg performance, that's only 0.125mpg. I don't care about that little of a change.

    Hell, the DRLs on the car (which I have disabled) are similarly powered, and would be a bigger issue, since they run ALL the time. I agree that DRLs are a waste of everything (particularly since american cars tend to use the high-beams for this, further increasing glare) but no one seems to complain about significant losses due to them. I'd expect the auto industry to be all over that, if it were REALLY affecting there CAFE mileages.

    So, I am happy to be convinced otherwise, but I just don't see the problem?

    • GeorgeC_ says:

      The easiest 'test' is to have your dashboard illumination at its maximum, and then as quickly as possible turn it to the minimum setting. Due to latency of pupil dilation, there will be 1-2 seconds before you will be able to see your dashboard.

      You do want maximum seeing distance, so you can have maximum reaction time, right? Then you leave the fog lights off, and the dashboard as low as practical for you.
      Have you heard of the Saab 'stealth' mode, where everything except the speedometer is turned off?

      As to fuel consumption, 55 watts is only at 12 or 12.8 volts (I don't recall of the top of my head), so at almost 14 volts that could be about 130 watts. Lets low ball the alternator at 50% efficiency, now we are up to 260 watts, and now lets high ball thermal efficiency of the engine at 1/3, 780 watts. That is more than 1 hp of fuel consumption (that is why GM asked for an allowance during fuel economy testing to have the DRLs off)
      That is why LEDs are the new de facto DRL standard.

      • TheNamesIsJames says:

        It is not "1 hp of fuel consumption" – it is the consumption of fuel with an energy content equal to 1 hp. That fuel was only ever going to give 1/3rd a horsepower no matter where it was directed, so referring to the fuel content is a red herring.

        It'd be like saying that a 100hp car is really a 300hp car, because that the energy value of the fuel it consumes. So therefor it should be faster than this other car that only has 250 hp. You're trying to have it both ways.

        How fast are you driving – or how slow are your reactions – that you need to see the very limit of what your headlights light up? Shouldn't you have high-beams to help with that? And if there are oncoming cars and you can't use your high-beams, well, the refracted light from your fogs isn't going to make a lick of difference compared to the direct beams from the oncoming traffic.

        • GeorgeC_ says:

          You have a Subaru Legacy which has good fog lights [low mounted, wide separation, somewhat inset], they are probably better than 9 out of 10 fog lights on the road. That being said, it would be nice if you set an example to others by not running them unless it is foggy. [trying to light up the road under the fog] I happen to be a proponent of selective yellow, so if you are using selective yellow, I would be okay with their usage in snow/rain conditions beside just fog.

          If you run them in the rain, no fog, they can cast glare relatively far down the road because of the low angle of incidence, and the reflection of the wet road.

          • schwinn8 says:

            Ok, so we agree that my Legacy has less-annoying fogs. So, I'm not imagining things. Yellow would be ideal, of course, as you noted… but as you know, there isn't enough fog out here anyway for me to care.

            I'll answer the rest on the thread above…

        • TheNamesIsJames says:

          Sorry, i meant to reply to george's post above yours. 1hp worth of chemical energy in gasoline is worth 1/3hp of kinetic energy after it gets through the engine, i meant to say. George was trying to conflate chemical potential energy with real-world potential.

          Your source (great find) says that adding foglights does decrease the max range for target identification as compared to only low-beams, but that a brighter lit periphery allows for more focus on the road down the way. I'm seeing nothing about this "glare" problem, which tallies with my real-world experience. It concludes that they come out slightly ahead in overall safety, although it's a wash for safety in the fog.

          I'm still going to run them whenever i feel like it (which tends to be in the woods at night), but it's good to know there's some science there too.

      • schwinn8 says:

        I understand the concept of pupil dilation and such, but I still don't get your point. I'm not staring into the fog light, or the light cast by it, so I don't believe it's affecting my visibility much (if at all) when I am looking down the road. When I need to look there, I can see clearly there, so that's a good thing, in general.

        By your implication, it would be better to have dimmer headlights, in general, so that unlighted areas are easier to see… yet I doubt that's what you are really intending for us to do? So, again, I don't see the point.

        I REALLY want to see your side of the story, but I'm just not getting it. I don't see the facts that prove your point?

        I don't necessarily agree with your computation, but even with 1hp, you're only looking at 0.25mpg difference… which is hardly worth the effort. On a smaller engined car, it might be more of an impact, but in reality it's probably not anywhere near that. In fact, the existing charging system is "burning away" some of the excess voltage anyway, as heat (ie, the battery won't charge for more than 12-ish volts, so the rest must go as heat, for example)… so all you're doing is putting that already-lost power to some use. I'm not saying it's an even-trade, but the point I'm making is that it's not a significant effect on mpg. Deflated tires would make for a FAR larger effect than these lamps.

  5. schwinn8 says:

    Agreed, better headlights are always better. (And not that blue crap people keep using…) I'm quite familiar with the HIR H9s that have been suggested by Daniel Stern Lighting, for example… there's a good thread about that on the LGT.com forums.

    I'll also say that the cutoff on my projectors are pretty good, so this additional light would likely not cause too much grief to others.

    All that aside, I still question the glare-comment. I hear it all the time, but there seems to be no evidence of it. Personally, it doesn't make a bit of difference to me when I see a car with fogs on. This supposed "glare" doesn't bother me… so I'm curious about who is seeing it? Are there any studies anywhere showing this to be a real problem? That is my question. From what I'm seeing, these are hardly a real problem, and so far, the bigger problem are annoying wavelengths and HID setups… which again tells me the "glare" from fogs is relatively negligible.

    So, I ask again, where are the studies showing fogs are such a big glare problem? Because, literally, I don't see it.

    • Randall1000 says:

      I don't understand why there is such a huge arguement on fog lights.I have nevr had a problem on ther road where I was like gee, I really wish that guy turned his fog lights off, im so blindedright now.not once have i ever thought that in 10 years of driving.

  6. Randall1000 says:

    In MD you are not obligated to get over out of the left lane. It really sucks. They tried to pass the law, but lawmakers liked the fact that there was someone making everyone do the limit. They were too concerned about the guy driving the speed limit getting the ticket. Also you don't have to use your turn signal to change lanes in MD, only when making left or right hand turns.

    I never understood the stop merge. That is so much harder to drive and just creates a chain reaction. I'm thankful it's never happened to me.

  7. […] is a lovely guide at the National Motorists Association that gives a few more ideas on how to be a good highway driver.  Really, it’s not just about […]

  8. Daniel C. says:

    As far as cruise control passing goes, most modern cruise controls do not need to be disabled or put on standby to pass someone. Simply press down harder on the gas until you’ve passed the car, then release the gas and the cruise will return the pedal (or let it return) to the position it was in for the speed it was set at.