September is National Courtesy Month, offering the perfect opportunity to extend kindness and respect to our fellow man. In essence, courtesy is consideration. It’s about showing kindness and respect to others.
Lane Courtesy or lane discipline as it is sometimes called is quite simply staying in the right lane on the highway except to pass slower moving vehicles.
When motorists use lane courtesy every time they drive they will find they are generally safer because they drive with the traffic instead of continuously weaving in and out of traffic. Motorists will save gas and arrive quicker at their destination because they are going with the traffic flow which allows for a smoother ride. Most importantly, when motorists use lane courtesy there will be less road rage and less overall stress while driving.
The current concept of lane courtesy, which is also called lane discipline, evolved in the United States with the development of the Interstate Highway System. However, the idea that slower traffic should yield to faster vehicles is even older.
Most states have rarely enforced traffic laws that require slower traffic, upon being signaled by a following vehicle, to pull to the right so the faster vehicle can pass.
Before 1973, rural speed limits were more likely to reflect realistic travel speeds. That meant that slower vehicles were driving under the speed limit and had no excuse to block the progress of faster traffic. The 55-mph National Maximum Speed Limit changed all that.
The 55-mph speed limit caused a total breakdown in lane courtesy.
Slower drivers that would have stayed in the right-hand lane before, felt they could drive wherever they wanted now because they would still be going the speed limit or faster. This process was reinforced for more than two decades and it left an impression on a whole generation of new drivers.
In 1995, through the efforts of the National Motorists Association, the 55-mph limit was repealed.
Since then, several states have raised their speed limits and some even reflect actual travel speeds. Unfortunately, almost a quarter of century of poor lane courtesy had a lasting, negative impact.
Failure to yield the left lane is often caused by nothing more sinister than someone not paying attention. This can still be dangerous, which is why it’s a good idea to merge right if you are not passing anyone.
Unfortunately, there are also people who deliberately refuse to practice lane courtesy.
These “left-lane hogs” have all sorts of excuses for their inappropriate and unsafe behavior. They say the left lane is smoother or that it’s easier to see from. Some even claim they are doing faster drivers a favor because faster cars can stay in the right lane and don’t have to pull out to pass them.
The granddaddy of all “left-lane hog” excuses is “I’m driving the speed limit, I shouldn’t have to move over.”
Of course, anyone who honestly looks at speed limits on our roads know they rarely reflect actual travel speeds. Instead they are arbitrary, politically generated numbers that have no relationship to real engineering standards.
This means a driver going the speed limit in the left lane can still be a serious problem. They can cause abrupt lane and speed changes, as well as hostility or road rage. Even if our speed limits were more realistic, there is no good reason to remain in the left lane if a faster vehicle wishes to pass you. It only creates friction and makes our roads more dangerous.
That’s why most states have laws that regulate driving in the left lane. Some allow it only for passing, others require slower traffic to yield the left lane if a faster vehicle – regardless of speed – is approaching.
In Texas, the law reads as such: “Sec. 544.011. LANE USE SIGNS. If, on a highway having more than one lane with vehicles traveling in the same direction, the Texas Department of Transportation or a local authority places a sign that directs slower traffic to travel in a lane other than the farthest left lane, the sign must read “left lane for passing only.”
Lanes changes account for about 4 percent of all car accidents in the US, and perhaps as much as 10 percent of accidents on highways. Meanwhile, research has generally shown that the strongest predictor of an accident isn’t speeding, but variance from the average speed of traffic — and a car going 5 miles per hour slower than the surrounding traffic has a greater chance of causing an accident than one going 5 miles per hour faster than it.
If relatively slow drivers are scattered among 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. If the slower drivers are all driving in the right lane, a faster driver can pass several at a time, then get back into the right, cutting down on the total number of lane changes and eliminating the slowdowns.