06 February 2012

"Freeway Etiquette" by Michelle Glauser


I'm sure you've all seen this picture making its rounds. If not, congratulations. Be amused. Or confused.

I was surprised to find that while I was in Utah recently, during a one-hour drive, no less than five cars whose drivers saw me approaching in the passing lane moved over to the lane to the right, and even used their blinkers.

California traffic makes me crazy. I've never been a big fan of commuting, but in California it is soooo bad. Both directions are slow, and even the carpool lane is no guarantee. You will never get anywhere as quickly as the Google Maps instructions think you will (though the traffic congestion colors can be helpful). Also, heads up--the fact that almost every single light in Cali has a green turn arrow as opposed to the yield-on-left-turn light that exists in Utah makes so that every light will take you forever, and if you miss a turn off, you add another fifteen minutes to your drive as you will have to flip a U-ie twice (unless you want to drive over a huge Garden of Eden-type median), thus waiting through another two lights. Good luck with that.

Though I do my own head shaking at people who honk and flip the bird, there are times when I understand completely why someone might do that. One such annoyance comes with the freeway carpool lane. The picture above is incomplete where it comes to carpool lanes. Some people think that carpool lanes are another passing lane. This idea is so prevalent that the real passing lane gets the short end of the stick and I end up being stuck behind cars going five below the speed limit. (In case you don't realize what I mean, five below the limit is a problem, as is the fact that they don't get out of the way when they see someone faster coming up behind them). Carpool lanes can be useful, but they are on the wrong side of the freeway! Think about it. If you need to get off the freeway, you have to get a bunch of people who are mad because they're not moving as you have zoomed past the last eight hundred cars to let you over. Same goes for getting onto the freeway. I think having the carpool lane on the right might be a good move. Or maybe there should be two carpool lanes with their own exits and entrances so that it would be still possible to pass on the left.

Also, the left lane should be clearly marked as the passing lane, which means THAT YOU SHOULD MOVE IF SOMEONE BEHIND YOU IS GOING FASTER (THIS IS WHERE YOUR REARVIEW MIRROR COMES IN HANDY). No matter if that person is going 100 miles an hour and clearly breaking the law--you are breaking the law if you do not let them pass (did you know that?). Get out of the way. That's why the German Autobahn works more smoothly than American freeways even with only two or three lanes--because people understand that you drive in the right lane and pass in the left. So in other words, I repeat, if someone is tailing you in the left lane, move over to the right. You are welcome to get back over into the passing lane to pass a slowie in the right lane once that fast car is gone, but be ready to move over again if necessary!

On the flip side, if you are the fast guy and there is a slowie in front of you, please don't give in and pass on the right. You are ruining traffic and teaching people that it's okay to drive (slowly) in the passing lane. I fully invite you to (somewhat safely) tail until the slowie gets the hint. Or even honk if you're that brave. Sometimes I even think we need words to appear backwards on our windshields that say, "Please move over to the right." Again, signage and some nationwide ads about safety should do wonders to improve the current situation.

I recently read a complaint made by a Utahn about how the speed limit shouldn't be raised because then people will still go ten miles per hour over the limit. The writer complained that angry people tail him in the carpool lane. Two thoughts: as long as the carpool lane is going to be the far left lane, people are going to treat it like a passing lane so you should realize that and react accordingly (if possible--sometimes those danged white lines make moving over an option that will make you the law-breaker), meaning that if you are going to drive slow, the carpool lane is not going to benefit you or anyone else and you should get over. Also, your responsibility isn't to monitor other people's speed--it's their own responsibility, and if they make a decision that you view as irresponsible, then your best reaction is to get out of the way so you don't get in a crash!

More advice: make sure you merge onto the freeway at a speed similar to freeway speeds. If you're going to go any speed under the speed limit, stay in the right lane, unless you're going to go ten miles per hour or more under the speed limit: then stay off the freeway (as a kind stranger explained to my grandma on the freeway many years ago). Use your blinker for goodness' sake! Often people who don't blink claim that no one is behind them. But when there's one lane between us and we're both thinking of switching lanes, if we don't have the benefit of each other's blinkers, we might just crash. I think that even if it's 3 AM and there's no other car for miles, you should still blink. Don't get offended when someone honks. The horn is there to warn or remind and I think we're sometimes a little too afraid to use it the way it was meant to be used. When in a non-passing lane, let people in when they blink.

This piece doesn't apply to Utah, but in California where people on motorcycles are allowed to pass on the right in the same lane, please get over to the left of the lane to give them some assurance (I saw one guy who would thumbs-up anyone who moved over to make his commute safer).

Also, I think driving laws and signs should be unified across the world. That way there would be less scary international tourist drivers everywhere you go. And by the way, this includes the opinion that we should switch to kilometers per hour and the like. I think people should live closer to where they work so they can bike or walk or take public transportation to work. (I think public transportation should be amazing in every city.)

Whew, alright, I think I've covered the main items that have been bouncing around my head. Anything I've missed?


  1. But in Utah one can ride a motorcycle without a helmet, and Utah drivers go insanely over the speed limit on the freeway, even in constructions zones where it clearly is posted 55mph. And I"m sure they surse that Claifornia driver as they pass me lol hahah

  2. Hi Lisa, it is dumb that Utahn motorcylists are allowed to drive without a helmet. But other people can make that decision to speed. Everyone else just has to do what's safest in reaction to that speeding.

  3. I think this should be the official public manual of how to properly drive on the freeway =)

  4. Do you live in California now? I might be behind on my blog reading. And it's refreshing to see that freeway driving is frustrating in other places, since people usually just complain about horrible "Utah drivers."

  5. France really sticks to the "left lane only for passing" rule as well. It was hard for me to adapt, though apparently it's the law in Maryland too, I don't remember them mentioning it at all during driver's ed. However, I think growing up and driving near DC and the Beltway (freeway to you?), I was rarely on roads with only 2 lanes. It was either 1 or 3+. I'm going back for a visit in a few weeks, I'll keep an eye out for left lane non-passers and try to post about it :-)