A few months ago I took a road trip from Chicago down to New Orleans. And on the way back up (we were somewhere either in Tennessee or Missouri), I got pulled over — it was my first time getting pulled over. And it wasn’t for speeding. it was because I was driving in the left lane. So there are basically two types of drivers in the world. There are people who get really upset about all the people driving slowly in the left lane. That’s Joey. He fits into that first group. And then there are a lot of drivers who had no idea that this is even a problem.
Yeah, that was me. Sorry about that. I don’t drive much. The truth is, when drivers hang out in the left lane, it makes traffic worse and more dangerous for everybody involved. Here’s what that looks like. If you have relatively slow drivers scattered amongst the right and left lanes, faster drivers have to repeatedly slow down and weave back and forth, changing lanes many times to pass all of them. So if you’re going five miles slower than everyone else and you’re traveling in the left lane, it forces them to make dangerous moves trying to pass you on the right which is more likely to cause an accident. But there’s a better way for traffic to flow — and that’s if we only use the left lane for passing. If all the slower drivers are in the right lane, a faster driver can pass several at once, and get back over to the right, which cuts down the total number of lane changes and eliminates the slowdowns. Move over, or get a ticket. That’s the message from state troopers to people driving too slowly in the left lane. Some people argue that as long as they’re going the speed limit, they shouldn’t have to move over.
But there’s evidence that that slowing down and changing lanes is actually more dangerous than speeding. Research has shown that the strongest predictor of an accident is variance from the average speed of traffic. And a car going five miles per hour slower than the surrounding traffic has a greater chance of causing an accident than one going five miles per hour faster. That’s why every state has some law on on record that restricts the use of the left lane. In 29 states, any car that’s moving slower than the surrounding speed of traffic should be in the right lane. And in 11 states, the laws are stricter —, they say that the left lane is only for turning or passing. Historically police didn’t really pay that much attention to slow left lane drivers, but more recently there have been campaigns in places like Washington, Texas, and Ohio where police are actually issuing tickets to people they spot traveling slowly in the left lane. “The reason why I stopped you is the law in the state of Washington is keep right except to pass.” “This is something that has always been illegal and against the law here in Michigan, But now officers are rolling out this new education effort to help the public understand just what they can and they cannot do when it comes to this type of driving.
Now, it doesn’t have to be this way. A good example of this is the German Autobahn — so this is Germany’s highway network, which has long stretches of road with no speed limits and it has surprisingly low accident rates. One reason for this, some researchers think, is that German drivers are more likely to stay in the right lane for traveling and only use the left for passing. That shared norm helps keep them safe. So fellow drivers I am sorry — I didn’t know the rules. But I’m not alone, and if more people understand how this works, we will have much fewer traffic jams.