The Washington Times

Move over, slowpoke

Eric Peters
Published 8/2/2002

New roads would be helpful in easing gridlock and ameliorating “road rage,” but revival of the lost art of lane courtesy would be even better.

Lane courtesy is simply this: moving to the right and allowing faster-moving traffic to pass. Americans almost uniformly ignore this cardinal rule of road civility and it’s probably the biggest single reason why driving has become so tooth-pulling unpleasant in and around major cities. Indeed, anyplace else there are a lot of vehicles on the road.

Americans do not practice lane courtesy because it isn’t taught in American driver-education courses and the self-appointed “public- safety” frauds refuse to discuss it. The claptrap taught in most state-approved driver’s-ed courses suggests that it’s sound policy to occupy any lane on the freeway provided you are doing the lawfully posted speed limit. The person, therefore, who refuses to budge from the left lane is convinced he’s in the right and the angry conga line of drivers stuck behind him fuming and inevitably tailgating as they jockey desperately for enough space to make a move are “aggressive” and full of “road rage.” The lane hog is doing the speed limit, after all, and clearly not violating and of the rules of “defensive driving.”

It’s the same thing on two-lane divided highways. How often have you been stuck in a rolling roadblock because two cars, one in the left lane, one in the right, have perfectly matched each other’s cruise control and neither refuses to pull ahead of the other to allow you to get by? They see you back there, of course, but they just don’t care. In their minds, this rudeness is perfectly OK, even though it is an especially loathsome form of passive-aggressive behavior.

But of course, the law says the speed limit is such and such and that anyone wanting to pass a car that’s already going that fast is technically in the wrong. This is nonsense, of course. Traffic laws have been twisted like a boardwalk pretzel by various political factions factions for whom safe, efficient travel is the least of their concerns. The result? Atrocious, politicized driver’s-ed courses, futile and even dangerous pronunciamentos about “driving defensively” (e.g., mindless obeisance to arbitrary laws and rules, whether they make sense or not) and a nightmare driving environment that makes one want to take the bus.

Europeans are more enlightened, and countries such as Germany enforce lane courtesy at ticket-point. Drivers who occupy the left lane and impede the flow of traffic are considered dangerous drivers and fined. In Europe, it is understood that failure to yield to faster moving traffic is a hazard that can cause accidents. Strict enforcement and widespread public practice of the art of lane courtesy explains why European roads, even those of Germany and Italy, where speeds are often much higher than on U.S. interstates, have lower overall accident and fatality rates.

It is also more pleasant to drive in Europe and that is even more valuable than driving fast. People uniformly move over when you approach at a faster speed, and the far left lane is used for passing only. The cattle-like plodding of minivans piloted by hausfraus dawdling along at exactly 55 mph in the fast lane is almost unknown. The cops do not generally harass drivers for violating silly speed-limit laws set by revenue-hungry politicians more interested in accumulating cash than saving lives. On the continent, the polizei concern themselves with genuinely dangerous activities as opposed to eating a doughnut by the side of the road and watching a radar gun’s readout.

All of the foregoing is, of course, extremely politically incorrect. The dumbed-down highways and drivers of America will hear none of it. And it may be too late to effect any change. An entire generation of misinformed, indoctrinated “defensive drivers” will have to part from the scene before proper driving etiquette might be reintroduced.

But perhaps a grass-roots resurgence of polite driving practices could be sparked. One by one, car by car, let’s all make it a point to move to the right when another car wants to pass. Let’s all repeat the mantra: Enforcing the speed limit is not my job. If someone wants to get around me, I will allow him to pass. If I am not passing anyone and am simply cruise-controlling my way someplace, I will move over to the right.

It’s not a difficult thing. And it would make our harried, over-stressed lives just a wee bit nicer.

C’mon. What do you say?

Eric Peters is an editorial writer for The Washington Times. Email: [email protected]