Making the Right Point

By John Carr, NMA Massachusetts Activist

Every year a lawmaker somewhere proposes changing the laws about driving in the left lane. Online forums go wild. The discussion degenerates into “it’s the law!” “you broke one law so I can break another law!” They’re both missing the point.

I don’t care what the statute book says. To remind you, here are the two rules of the road:

1. Try not to crash into anybody.

2. Try not to get in anybody’s way.

Nothing in there about miles per hour, complete stop, turn signals, licenses, and so forth. That is all secondary to the main job of driving. There’s nothing essentially different about 55 and 56 mph. If we switched to metric the criminal 56 mph would become a legal 90 km/h. There is nothing essentially different about a driver before and after the day his license expires.

There is something essentially different about driving on the right or left. Not that either is better, but when we’re approaching head-on at 100 mph relative speed we had better agree. In America, driving on the right is a fundamental rule of the road. In England, driving on the left is.

Because we chose to drive on the right, American highways were built with ramps on the right.

Because ramps are on the right, there is inevitably some slow traffic on the right, it’s best to try to put it all there, and faster traffic on the left. When you mix fast and slow in the same lane there are more conflicts, violating at least the second rule of the road and probably the first.

In some states the law says you can legally drive in the left lane at 10 under the limit, blocking traffic going 9 under the limit.

In some states the law says you must vacate the left lane when asked.

In some states the law says you must keep right except to pass, even if the road is empty.

I made a list if you’re curious, but I made it to answer the question “what does the law say?” rather than “what should drivers do?”

You should drive the same way in all 50 states. Slower on the right, faster on the left, unless there’s a reason to do otherwise.

Of course there are exceptions. The rule does not exist for the sake of having a rule, but to help us share the road.

Maybe the right lane ponds during rain. Maybe there is a left exit. Often the middle or even the left lane works best to carry through traffic past a series of busy interchanges.

Exceptions are not excuses to change the general rule. If you think you can hold up the left lane any time because it might be justified some time, you’re a bad driver. If you’re out to teach the other guy a lesson, you’re a bad driver. You might win Internet fame or a trip to the hospital. Do you feel lucky?

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