Putting Courtesy Back into Driving

When promoting the virtues of lane courtesy, the NMA will often get feedback from readers suggesting – some more forcefully than others – that the proper terminology should be ‘lane discipline’ or ‘keep right except to pass.’ Both of those phrases have specific and important meanings, but neither does justice to the spirit of cooperation that is often lacking in our driving culture.

In last week’s e-newsletter, Norman Risch pointed out that vehicles merging onto an active freeway from an entrance ramp are required to yield the right of way. And he rightfully noted that this is a driver education issue, one that needs to be emphasized more strongly in the training of young drivers. But courtesy also dictates that a driver in the traffic flow should move over a lane, if done safely, to let entering traffic merge more smoothly.

There is a strange – perhaps ‘misplaced’ is a better adjective – sense of competitiveness among many American drivers. Take the person camped out in the left lane. We have spoken to enough groups and read enough online comments about the topic to know that many refuse to get out of the way because of a conviction that they have the right to drive in any lane and other drivers shouldn’t be allowed to gain an advantage over them.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than when one or more active lanes are being shut down ahead, usually because of road construction. Many drivers react angrily when vehicles from the closing lane push past in order to merge into the traffic stream farther ahead of them. Some will even straddle the center line between the two lanes in an act designed to prevent such attempts.

In reality the passersbys are following proper protocol while the lane straddlers are in the wrong. Zipper merging, as explained here courtesy of the Minnesota DOT website, is the most efficient way for traffic to come together when the number of lanes is being reduced:

While we usually emphasize that lane courtesy is the principle of moving over to let faster traffic pass, it is important to remember that the term has a broader meaning that spans a number of different road encounters. Courtesy among drivers when allowing faster traffic to pass or to facilitate smooth merging patterns is one of the – many would argue THE – most important principles of the road.

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