Trying to keep slowpokes out of the left lane is right idea

March 03, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

LOOK, I know the highways are full of knuckleheads, especially the guy in the SUV the size of a starship who roars up on your rear bumper and flashes his lights for you to get out of the way so he can get to wherever he's going a whole six seconds faster.

But of all the knuckleheads on the road, one type really drives me nuts.

And that's the knucklehead who gets in the left lane and refuses to move over for faster traffic.

Oh, he sees you in his rear-view mirror, all right.

But he's not moving. Uh-uh. No, he owns this left lane! This isn't the passing lane, it's his lane! After all, he's doing the speed limit! So if you want to pass him, by God, you'll just have to go around him!

So you end up passing on the right, which is dangerous, and shooting him a dirty look, which is a waste of facial expression. Because this person has no intention of changing his unsafe driving habits.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of these knuckleheads in Maryland.

In fact, this state seems to be the home office for these people.

But maybe not for long.

I say this because the House of Delegates just passed a bill that would require these left-lane hogs to move over for faster traffic.

And if they don't move over and a state trooper sees them, they could be subject to a fine and a point on their driver's license -- even if they're doing the speed limit.

The bill now goes to the Senate for debate. And here's hoping it passes there, too. For one simple reason: Left-lane hogs are the major cause of road rage in this country.

"We've done a lot of studies on what it is that punches [motorists'] buttons and pushes them over the edge," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for the mid-Atlantic chapter of the Automobile Association of America. "And the No. 1 reason is frustration over left-lane slowpokes.

"The public perceives that you can actually be an aggressive driver -- or passive-aggressive -- doing 55 in the left-hand lane of a highway. [That driver is] thinking: `I'm going to do the speed limit ... and it's my right and I'm going to stay in the left lane.' "

The thing these left-lane hogs fail to realize is: speed isn't the issue here.

The issue is traffic safety.

And common sense.

The left lane is the passing lane, it's that simple. Slower traffic is supposed to stay to the right, which is one of the first things they beat into my head in driving school.

If you're doing 55 in the left lane and someone wants to pass you, you're supposed to move over.

If you're doing 75 in the left lane and someone wants to pass you, you're supposed to move over.

If you're doing 90 in the left lane ... well, you get the idea.

"Speed, in and of itself, doesn't kill," says Anderson. "What kills is speed differential, a car doing 75 that comes upon a car doing 55.

"A lot of people say `Well, that guy shouldn't be doing 75.' But that's not for us to judge. That's for the police to judge. That motorist may have a pregnant wife in the back seat and he's trying to get to a hospital."

Or he may have three buddies in the back seat and they're trying to make last call at a nightclub.

Doesn't matter.

Let the police handle the speeders.

If you're in the left lane and they want to pass, move over.

(Actually, Anderson says if you want to help catch speeders, you can always grab your cell phone and hit #77 and tell the cops some guy just passed you doing Mach 3.)

(But I'm not sure which is worse: someone roaring up the highway at 90 or someone trying to drive and dial a cell phone at the same time.)

(Not to beat this to death, but I think someone driving and dialing a cell phone is probably as dangerous as someone with a six-pack warming his gut.)

Anderson says if the bill requiring slower motorists to yield becomes law, the first thing we'll probably see is more signs on the highways saying something like: "Slower traffic move right."

After that, police might start pulling over motorists and giving them warnings if they fail to yield to faster cars.

Only after educating the driving public about the new law would police start issuing tickets.

Anyway, as I said, I'm all for it, especially if it helps cut down on road rage.

These knuckleheads who hog the left lane should be for it, too.

Better to get a ticket than a bullet coming through the windshield.

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