By on May 31, 2011

Editor’s Note: Tomorrow is the first day of June, which the National Motorists Association has deemed “Lane Courtesy Month.” What follows is a piece entitled “Lane Courtesy: A Driving Ethic,” which was originally posted at the NMA’s website. There, the NMA has dedicated a whole page to issues of lane courtesy, including studies, fact sheets and other resources for the promotion of lane courtesy. TTAC thanks the NMA for drawing attention to the perennial aggravation of “Left Lane Bandits” and encourages you, our readers, to learn more at the NMA’s website and spread the good word. With just a little more awareness of lane courtesy, a better world is indeed possible…

While there are always “exceptions to the rule” there are many elements of human conduct that are ruled not by laws or regulations, but rather by common courtesy, ethics, self-interest, and social habits.

Adherence to these unwritten patterns of human interaction is typically more consistent and predictable than behavior dictated by government edicts and orders. For example, if one stranger greets another stranger with a simple “hello” or “good morning” it would be extremely rare that the other person would not respond in a similar manner, even if only to nod or smile. To do otherwise would be considered rude and unfriendly, but it is not illegal.

The same is true for interactions between motorists, unfortunately, the insulating quality of an automobile retards or distorts these interactions.

When motorists enter a construction zone where two lanes narrow to two the natural pattern that evolves is that the drivers take turns entering the single lane; first from one lane and then from the other lane. No law, just a common courtesy. The same interactions take place when vehicles enter and merge onto limited access and divided highways.

The point is that much of our driving behavior is really dictated by patterns that have evolved over the past century. These patterns are now part of our driving ethic. Lane courtesy, the practice of yielding the left lane on multi-lane highways to faster and passing traffic, should be part of that ethic.

Laws that require the practice of lane courtesy are helpful in that they provide a platform to promote lane courtesy and to educate the public on the benefits of this practice. As enforcement devices (like many traffic laws) they are of marginal value and they are difficult to enforce.

For lane courtesy to flourish it must be accepted as the ethical and right thing to do, not because it’s the law.

Courtesy: The National Motorists Association

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26 Comments on “June Is Lane Courtesy Month: Do Your Part!...”

  • avatar


    Though I hold little hope that this will ever become standard practice here in the U.S.

    First, drivers will need to learn to use their rear-view mirrors… the thingy you have aimed at your face so you can pluck your eyebrows while driving in the left lane. A basic awareness of what is going on around you aside from three feet in front of the car’s grille would be a good start.

    Second, gain some understanding that a raised middle finger and purposefully driving the exact same speed as the semi truck in the next lane is not an appropriate response to a left-turn blinker behind you or to a quick flash of the brights.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. It essentially all boils down to using the passing lane for passing, not jockeying and splaying yourself across 5 lanes to get to work 87 seconds faster, and letting broken down vehicles & EMS vehicles use the shoulders.

      In other words, we’re screwed.

  • avatar

    Hey Baruth! Can you forward this to Gov. Kasich? Ditto for Schreiber and Granholm. A change in behavior of drivers in those two states would fix at least half the national problem. It is doable; Illinois got itself off the top offender’s list a decade or more back through concentrated publicity and enforcement. This is one revenue grab I could get behind 200%.

    • 0 avatar

      I going to “pull a Holzman” and note that I attended 1st through 12th grades in the Pittsburgh suburbs with John Kasich as a classmate and friend. I even helped him with 10th-grade geometry!

      BTW, he tragically lost both of his parents when they pulled out of a restaurant and were side-impacted by a drunk driver in 1986.

    • 0 avatar

      Granholm isn’t governor anymore. It’s Rick Snyder.

      I’m fine with more enforcement, as long as they enforce it equally, meaning that cops have to maintain lane discipline too.

  • avatar

    gotta love that greeting! kudos, truckducken.

  • avatar

    There is no such thing as passing on the left in Socal. I do most of my passing on the right, sigh… I’m convinced they are the cause of most traffic jams. A public education campaign would be money well spent.

    • 0 avatar

      The Brits have a term for passing on the ‘off’ side (left for them, right for us. It’s called undertaking – it’s a good way to increase the chance of meeting one in the profession. Public education on lane blocking and undertaking would be money as well spent as on public education in the LA school district – first you have to care about the subject.
      I hate it when someone blocks lanes of traffic to cross a multi-lane secondary road – vehicular Blanche DuBois’s depending on the kindness of strangers not to t-bone them.

  • avatar

    I’m a slow driver, and my 4cyl 98 Accord cruises swimmingly in the right or middle lane. I’m a slow driver, but was taught young not to drive in the “fast” lane unless I was passing.

  • avatar

    Give me a break! The NMA is recycling a promotion that’s at least 5 years old.

    While I very much agree lane discipline is a good thing (and I practice it myself), this group’s real agenda is too refute/repeal any modicum of regulation that would hinder one’s ability to drive as fast as he/she wants. Careful tests by in the high desert of California showed that high speed is one of the most detrimental factors in obtaining good gas mileage.

    The NMA’s take is that “You’ll get better gas mileage — Lane courtesy promotes the smooth flow of traffic and helps drivers maintain an even pace. Vehicles use the most gas when accelerating. Less braking followed by acceleration will improve fuel economy.” True, but not as significant as sustained very high speeds.

    If the NMA had its way, they’d take highway safety back to the dark ages of the 1950s when all we did was exhort drivers to behave. Didn’t work then, won’t work now.

    The NMA is against seat belt use laws, motorcycle helmet laws, most speed limits (except those set by the fabled 85th percentile), photo radar, red light cameras, the 0.08 per se drunk driving laws, and on and on! Any scientifically based study that counters their beliefs is lambasted.

    • 0 avatar

      Opposing blatant local-government cash grabs is taking highway safety back to the 1950s? If they wanted to turn back the clock on crash safety regs you might have a point.

      • 0 avatar

        blatant local-government cash grabs

        Only if you believe the NRA and its comrade-in-arms, The Newspaper. Besides, seat belt mandatory use laws were the KEY factor in getting most people to buckle up, same with motorcycle helmet use laws. Those “buckle up for safety” ads and grisly photos of dead crash victims were not in the least effective.

    • 0 avatar
      slow kills

      This is why I’m the NMA.

      Do tell us about this science behind asymptotically lowering the DWI ABC below any reasonable impairment.

      The only thing I disagree with the NMA on is cell phone usage, which you oddly omitted.

  • avatar

    Saying that all traffic laws are equally good is as wrong as saying that they are all bad.

    Mandatory seat belt laws – which were supported by the automakers, incidentally – do work. It’s interesting to note that safety advocates initially scoffed at the automakers’ contention that these were needed before we phased in airbags. Remember that Joan Claybrook and Ralph Nader initially wanted airbags used as the PRIMARY restraint system (meaning, they were to be a SUBSTITUTE for safety belts), as they argued that people could not be counted on to use their safety belts.

    The automakers argued that airbags without safety belts were dangerous, especially to children and small adults. Turns out they were right. Airbags are only safe when the people are wearing their safety belts.

    While the initial efforts to combat drunk driving have been effective, the “impairment begins with one drink” mantra is complete nonsense. One or even two drinks does not make one an unsafe driver, unless you are chugging tequila in a Big Gulp cup. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been the driving force behind our drunk-driving laws, and it’s worth noting that its founder (Candice Lightner) has disavowed the association’s direction.

    And I believe we all know that vehicles use more gas at 80 mph than at 55 mph. But, we figure that it’s worth the extra cost. We regularly travel on interstates to visit family members. I’m not meandering along at 55 mph the entire way from Harrisburg to Bedford, Pa., on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to save a few bucks on gas.

    And while I agree that getting rid of left-lane bandits isn’t going to save much, if any, gasoline, the simple fact is that lane discipline is the hallmark of a good driver, and slower traffic yields to faster traffic in the passing lane. This makes driving much more pleasant.

  • avatar

    Imagine that you’re the proverbial lifetime left-lane bandit/self-righteous arsehole. You’re often yaking on your cell while driving in the left lane at 10 kms/hr UNDER the posted speed limit, blissfully unaware that you’ve been passed on the right by 25 cars during the last three minutes.

    Occasionally you’re awaken from your stupor by flashing lights and the sound of a horn. You look in your make-up er, vanity mirror to see the grille of a pickup about two car-lenghths behind you. The driver is not smiling. “Damn tailgaters! How ’bout I slow down another 5 clicks and then sidle right up alongside this semi on my right for a while. How does 45 minutes sound?”

    Well, that’s the way it usually goes when you do this, but not today. This time it’s an ’09 Honda Fit on your tail, traveling about two seconds behind you. Like all the others, this driver isn’t smiling either. You catch a glimpse of what looks like a laser pointer coming from under the Fit’s front bumper, but it disappears as fast as it appeared. “Musta been a trick of the light” you assume, and go back to reading your book.

    Moments later you hear a “pop”, followed by the unmistakeable “whump-whump-whump” of a flat rear tire.

    Wide awake now, you frantically look for a break in the right-lane traffic to pull over to the right shoulder since there’s no room to pull over on the left almost-non-existent shoulder. But since you’re going so slow the traffic on the right is coming on too fast to allow you to merge to the right— even if you HAD the common sense to broadcast your intentions by using that little lever to the left of your steering wheel to turn on your right signal— which of course you don’t.

    So you now have no choice but to floor the accelerator to match your speed to the right-lane traffic, ignoring the fact that if your flat tire was repairable at first it will most certainly be destroyed by the time you finally get pulled over to the right-hand shoulder. The driver of the Fit breezes past on your left, but now the driver IS smiling— and giving you the finger.

    But the real treat happens when your take the wheel in for a tire replacement. You go up to the counter to pay the bill. “Uh, by any chance, do you have any enemies”? asks the service tech. “I don’t think so. Why?” “I found this inside your old tire” replies the tech, as he holds up what remains of a .38 caliber bullet.

    Karma is such a bitch. And she’s just ordered the lobster!

    • 0 avatar

      Zeus, pray tell, are you the designer of such an efficient lane clearing system? When can I buy and how much? Too bad there’s more bad drivers than bullets.

      • 0 avatar

        Heh heh heh… I wish. That was just my diabolical imagination skipping out on the meds. Shouldn’t be too hard to design though:

        All one would need is a high-powered rifle mounted under the front of the car, pointed forward and just inboard of the left front wheel. Equipped with a laser sight and a remote firing servo it could be purchased for under a grand and mounted on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

        However, keep in mind that possessing and especially deploying such a device for its intended and richly-justifiable purpose would be a FELONY and therefore saddle you with a criminal record upon conviction. Say goodbye to that passport. (Unless of course you get busted by a sympathetic cop who can be bribed by insisting you design one for him too).

        This is why I don’t own one, nor would I admit it if I did. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        We’re on a moron killing spree – and we’re running out of ammo!

    • 0 avatar

      If I find myself in an exceptionally bad mood, coming across an exceptionally slow LLB, I’ll start pacing them on their right. They only notice (or care) about half the time, but usually after several minutes of not being able to shake me as they speed up and slow down, they’ll finally pull over.

      Yes, it’s not safe, and yes, I’m probably a terrible person, but it is just a little satisfying when it works.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve found that most Left Lane Campers (LLCs) tend to try and cut off anyone trying to get in front of them. So to clear the road, I’ll zip up on them (in the lane to the right), get slightly ahead of them, and flick on the turn signal.

        I won’t actually merge, but the LLCs “I’ve got to be first” mentality will unconsciously make them put the pedal to the metal to stop me. And when I accelerate, so do they.

        Which then opens the left lane up for a normal flow of traffic.

        And then, when I turn off the signal, they slow down, allowing me free access to the left lane (since they’ve since slowed down, as they no longer notice the now not-flashing blinker).

        Works wonders in clearing up the rat [email protected]@rds that drive nearly side-by-side.

  • avatar

    How about we add to the discussion the reciprocal problem: drivers speeding in the *right* lanes to avoid the police who exclusively hunt in the left lanes. These drivers weave in and out of traffic in the right lanes even though the left lane is wide open and free of any traffic. Typically they are going 20 or 30 mph over the limit dodging slower moving cars and laying on the brakes when they get into a situation where there is no opening for them to jump into. They are hard to ticket because a patrol car following them is obvious and because cars moving the speed limit only clutter the radar. The only way to stop them is track them by air. Perhaps all the ticket revenue should go to more airborne surveillance. Perhaps people camping out in the left lane are doing it as a form of protest or to protect themselves?

    • 0 avatar

      “How about we add to the discussion the reciprocal problem: drivers speeding in the *right* lanes to avoid the police who exclusively hunt in the left lanes. These drivers weave in and out of traffic in the right lanes even though the left lane is wide open and free of any traffic. Typically they are going 20 or 30 mph over the limit dodging slower moving cars and laying on the brakes when they get into a situation where there is no opening for them to jump into…Perhaps people camping out in the left lane are doing it as a form of protest or to protect themselves?”

      Uh, Morea, I’m betting that for almost every driver speeding past in the right lane (at least when there’s three or more lanes to choose from) there is a left-lane moron who made it necessary.

      Yes, there are speed demons who drive like ass-wipes: 30 kms/hr over the posted limit, weaving in and out of traffic with no signals and inches to spare and with nary a left-lane moron in sight. And those habits ALWAYS catch up to them in the form of suspended licences at the very least, because the cops do a damn good job of reeling them in.

      I don’t like these pr!cks either, but at least I recognize that I have absolutely no right whatsoever to play cop and hold up traffic— ANY traffic— by tying up the left lane.

      And guess what: Neither do you.

      The question I have for the speed demons is “What’s your problem anyway? Is there someone who looks like me doing your wife?”

      The question I have for the self-righteous control-freak “protest” rent-a-cops is even more abrasive: “Have you ever had sex with a partner that you didn’t have to rape?”

      As bad as the speeders may or may not be, at least once they’re past you they’re gone and out of your life. The left-lane losers? They hang around like a fart in a space suit. Which makes the bumper-mounted laser-pointer gun a more and more attractive option.

      • 0 avatar

        Neither do you.

        Hey, don’t indict me, I just putter along in the right lane observing the rest of you fools play out your petty dramas.

        because the cops do a damn good job of reeling them in

        I don’t share the same view.

  • avatar

    June is the start of hurricane season too.

    Among others things left lane (ab)users do that makes me nuts is not using cruise control. I do alot of towing (200 miles per weekend) and the split second people see a boat they attempt a pass – which is fine, I drive at or just below the speed limit when towing (65 mph normally). So they lane bandits wiz by assuming I must be going S L O W. However a mile up the road I’m forced to pass them as they are now coasting at 50 mph enjoying the view. But once I pass them they speed up again… I can almost hear them saying “don’t let that slow-azz boat trailer get in front of us; he’ll slow us down”.

    The difference is truckers: not only do they drive at nice constant speeds (better for mileage as everyone should know) but they flash their lights indicating when its safe to rejoin their “slow” lane after a pass. I always give a quick flick of the parking lights as a thank you. With a trailer in tow I need extra room to complete a pass so lane courtesy is very important to me.

  • avatar

    HOV (Carpool) and toll lanes in SoCal further exasperate the problem.
    Its single file for miles and no one is allowed to move right except for very sort areas or face horrendous fines. At least hybrids lose the single occupancy privilege next month!

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