Those happy campers in the left lane
Only 9% of drivers in a recent poll said they regularly camp in the passing lane. So why is it often blocked by slowpokes?
This post comes from Des Toups at partner site CarInsurance.com.
June was "Lane Courtesy Month." Did you notice?
The battle for the highway's left lane has raged for decades and, despite well-intentioned efforts to clarify laws and unclog the passing lane, has become part of the fabric of urban life.
Regional insurer Pemco acknowledges as much in the most recent addition to its long-running ad campaign, "Northwest Profile No. 51: Oblivious Left Lane Occupant":
"It matters not how many honks, high beams or dirty looks he receives, because he's in his own little world, a world where 'Speed Limit 60' can actually mean 51, and the words 'Stay Right Except to Pass' are merely a suggestion," the announcer intones. "Perhaps it's the breathtaking mountain view, or maybe it's the continuous soft hits on the radio, or maybe he thinks this is London, England -- if he thinks at all.
"Oblivious Left Lane Occupant, you're one of us. And like you, we're happy right where we are."
On Wednesday, the insurer released a lane-usage survey of 601 Washington state drivers. Its findings:
•86% agreed that the left lane should be reserved for faster traffic.
•89% said they often or sometimes see the left lane blocked.
•9% identified themselves as someone who camps in the left lane.
•43% said blocking the left lane was not a ticketable offense.
Lane-blocking is in fact a ticketable offense in Washington, carrying a $42 fine, as it is in most states. (Pemco treats the violation as it would any other minor offense, such as a seat-belt ticket, and it would have the same effect on insurance rates.) Even states that don't reserve the left lane on free-flowing highways for passing usually have some sort of slower-traffic-keep-right law on the books. In some states, the law applies even if the other guy is speeding -- that's his ticket to worry about. "Some people have asked if we actually stop drivers for staying in the left lane, and we absolutely do," Sgt. J.J. Gundermann of the Washington State Patrol told Pemco. "The Legislature's intent is for the left lane to be used as a passing lane, and ultimately some people need a ticket to get them to comply."
"If almost half of drivers don't know that left-lane camping is illegal, that might explain why it seems so common on our freeways," Pemco spokesperson Jon Osterberg said. "Perhaps we simply need to increase awareness."
If you're a driver waging a one-man awareness campaign, Pemco's survey says Washington drivers are most likely to respond to a flash of the headlights (34%) or tailgating (33%). They are least likely to respond to tailgating (32%) or to "hand gestures" (28%).
"Italian-style heavy tailgating flashing doesn't seem to work well in the U.S.," says "Traffic" author and columnist Tom Vanderbilt. "We like our rights: our rights to have that lane to ourselves, but also our right not to be bullied out of it."
Here's what the National Motorists Association -- proclaimer of Lane Courtesy Month -- recommends:
•The driver of a faster vehicle in the left lane should signal their desire to move past a slower vehicle in the left lane by turning on their left directional light for a few seconds.
•The operator of the slower vehicle should acknowledge this request by turning on their right directional light and merging right as quickly as possible without slowing down.
•If the slower driver fails to respond, the faster driver should briefly flash their headlights to catch the slower driver's attention. Ideally, the slower driver will then merge right.
Sgt. Gundermann advises only patience. "We strongly discourage drivers from taking any action -- like flashing headlights or tailgating -- when they're stuck behind a left-lane camper. These actions can promote road rage and rarely get other drivers to change their behavior."
Road Rage, really? Shitheads in the left lane never bother me at all.