Identifying drivers who disregard the right way to use the left lane


October 01, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LOTS OF drivers probably wonder about slowpokes in the passing lane, but David Towle of Ellicott City came right out and raised the issue with some passion: "Why do drivers ... who are either uncomfortable or too timid to even drive the speed limit insist on getting in the left (passing lane) and sitting there? Haven't any of these folks heard of `slow traffic keep right'?"

It amazes me, when I travel up Interstate 95 to New Jersey, that the left-most lane usually is more crowded than the other lanes. In an ideal world, yes, slower drivers would keep to the right, and even the faster drivers would move over once they've passed the slower cars. All too often, though, that's not the case.

Three breeds of drivers cruise the left lane.

The Righteous: They feel they have a constitutional right to cruise in the left lane even if they're traveling slower than the prevailing speed. If you ask these drivers why they're in the fast lane, they'll answer, "We're doing the speed limit."

The Clueless: They're not really sure why they're in the left lane, other than that they probably needed to pass someone 20 miles ago, and never bothered to move back. Their signals probably are still blinking.

The Aggressive: Even if they're not passing someone at the moment, they probably will be soon, so they need to stay in the left lane because they're special.

All three types of drivers should get out of the fast lane once they've passed cars that are traveling slower. If you know drivers who fit in one of the above categories, please send them this column with a nice note saying that you care about them and want to make sure they and other drivers continue to be safe.

Resurfacing concerns

Columbia resident Dino Theo asked why Maryland roads always seem to be in the middle of repaving. It's not a complaint about the condition of roads -- quite the opposite: "I do appreciate the Maryland roads. I take business trips every month or so, and it really stands out," he says.

"But what is up with the constant road resurfacing in Howard County? I have seen U.S. 29 and Interstate 70 get repaved/resurfaced regularly," he said. "It seems to me to be a gross abuse of the `use it or lose it' mentality of government budgets. The roads that I have seen resurfaced over the past few years have been in immaculate condition. I could think of many better uses for this money, but alas it is not up to me."

I'm not inclined to look a gift-horse in the mouth -- Maryland's highways are about the best maintained that I've seen compared with those in surrounding states, and I'm plenty grateful about it.

According to Lora Rakowski, a spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration, every two years, every state road, whether an interstate or a smaller secondary roadway, is analyzed by ARAN (the Automatic Road Analyzer), a computerized vehicle that interprets pavement condition while riding on the roadway. It evaluates friction, looks for potholes and rates the road's overall condition. The roads then are ranked by need, with interstates and more heavily traveled routes taking precedence.

"It is safe to say that interstates and more primary routes are resurfaced every 10 to 15 years as needed," Rakowski said. "A secondary route with lower traffic volumes may not need resurfacing for 20 years or more." But, she notes, every road is different because of factors such as the road's age, volume and type of traffic and geographical location, and these factors also affect how often a road is resurfaced.

Rakowski also notes that bridge redecking projects either were completed recently or are under way on I-95 and I-70. "The bridge decking may appear to be `road resurfacing' to the motorist, but these bridge projects are completed independently of general road resurfacing projects," she said.

And finally, she said, along U.S. 29, several capital projects have been undertaken, such as the construction of the interchanges at Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road, which have included widening along U.S. 29. She said that when a lane is added in a widening project, typically an "overlay" (resurfacing) is done on all lanes.

Looking up

"No traffic complaints today," Ellicott City resident Ann Henry said last week. "Just a reminder for everyone traveling east on U.S. 40 approaching the U.S. 29 overpass to take a second to look up at the American flag waving high above the trees. It's so inspiring and beautiful. I haven't checked it out, but it must be at the car dealer on U.S. 40 and Ridge Road."

A nice reminder of what's important. Thank you for sharing it.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at or send faxes to 410-715-2816. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.

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