Today, Gentle Commuters, we address the subject of driver etiquette.
In the dozens of responses the Intrepid Commuter has received so far, no other topic has aroused more passion. If the Baltimore metropolis were charm school, it appears a lot of us would be failing these days.
Your complaints range from encounters with ill-mannered people with "Save the Bay" bumper stickers who toss trash out the windows of their cars to the drivers who see a traffic signal turn red but speed up to drive through it.
"Baltimore drivers are THE WORST when it comes to running red lights," writes E. Reid Curley, a city resident. "Besides being an outrageous safety problem, it would seem that this is a great source ofrevenue for our financially-strapped city."
Intrepid Commuter is inclined to agree, but first asks that the local constabulary attack our readers' No. 1 gripe: people who drive slow in the fast lane.
Picture this scene. You are driving south along Interstate 83 when some clown decides that the left lane is the best place to maintain a speed of about 45 miles per hour.
He or she refuses to pull over to the right lane. After all, the left lane has fewer pot holes and the merging traffic is not a problem there.
The result: a rolling back-up that stretches to Harrisburg.
"It seems like Maryland is one of the few states where drivers seem tohave decided that the left lane is theirs and they're not going to pull over," says Doug May, who commutes between Ellicott City and Silver Spring. "The first thing they do when entering is shoot over to that left-hand lane."
Barbara Lederer of White Marsh has classified the five worst types of drivers as the "nominees for most-wanted criminals on the road."
Those slowpokes who commandeer the left lane she calls "Road Hogs" and recommends for them "remedial tutoring on the rules of lane protocol."
She also takes a shot at the Indy 500 Jones (a driver who will weave even in heavy traffic), the Winky Dink (the comatose driver who keeps a turn signal going forever), the Maybellines (drivers who usetheir rear-view mirror for primping while in motion) and the Nervous Wreckers (the people who merge and yield erratically).
"Many motorists are so rude you would think they were out with the sole purpose to cause trouble on the road," observes H.J. Bullinger, a city resident.
Intrepid Commuter is not pleased to observe so much unhappiness in the motoring public. We advise our fellow commuters to remember the Golden Rule and drive, as the state likes to remind us, gently.
Otherwise, we might be tempted to draw up plans to have an argon laser fitted to the hood of the Intrepid-mobile. A joystick control will be within easy reach of the driver. Displease us at your peril.
Your Legal Rights
On the subject of driving in the left lane, it should be noted that Maryland law does not prohibit passing on the right on multilane roads.
At one time, highway signs routinely warned slower vehicles to ++ bear right but that idea seems to have gone by the wayside.
Thomas Hicks, director of the State Highway Administration's Office of Traffic and Safety, tells us that in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, most states required motorists to pass on the left only. That directive fell out of favor by the 1970s to the point where few states enforce it today.
Why? Mostly because of congestion, he says. That, and the advent of freeways, where drivers discovered that it was not always wise to bear right: the right-hand lane is the most dangerous because of traffic getting on and off the highway.
"We don't want everyone to be in the right lane of the Baltimore Beltway," Mr. Hicks says. "That's where most of the accidents occur."
There are a couple of laws that address the problem of slowpokes. If a vehicle in any lane is traveling so slow as to be an impediment -- defined by the law as impeding the "normal and reasonable movement of traffic" -- a police officer can issue the driver a citation. Also, if a vehicle is traveling 10 miles per hour or more below the legal speed limit, it is required to be in the right-hand lane of a multilane highway unless traffic conditions prevent that.
Neither statute is enforced very often, said Capt. John Hughes, a state police spokesman.
Out of line
How about drivers who ignore white lines on the road? An anonymous caller complained to us recently about people who don't respect them.
It is common to see impatient motorists cross the single white lines delineating exit or entrance ramps on the Beltway. "How come the police never enforce this?" he asks.
The answer, again by way of Mr. Hicks, is that it's not against the law. The lines are a recommendation, not a requirement. If by crossing the line, the driver fails to yield to traffic or otherwise drives in a hazardous manner, that could be a violation, of course.
There you have it. Our first Intrepid Etiquette Primer. Clip and save it for your next driver's license examination.
Next week: The Hunt for the Good Samaritan.
Keep in touch
Write Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number.
Or call SunDial, The Sun's telephone information service, and enter 4305 on your touch-tone phone. Callers in the Baltimore area should dial 783-1800, or in Anne Arundel County, dial 268-7736.