A message to left-lane slowpokes: Stop being so selfish

Your dawdling in the passing lane, whether intentional or not, affects everyone else on the road

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Let’s play chicken or the egg for a moment: Which comes first, passing-lane slowpokes or tailgaters?

While there is a cornucopia of driving habits to get all kerfuffled about – some illegal and some simply bad – there is nothing quite as outrageous as those who refuse to stay right except to pass. Nothing provokes as much literal rage or commentary. To watch online discussions erupt about the problem, you’d think left-lane bandits were selling meth to toddlers.

I almost believe we’re being trolled, actually, when someone wades in saying, “The speed limit is the speed limit, I will drive the speed limit in the left lane because that is the law” – because who is actually that dense? Does something really have to be mandated into law – keep right except to pass – to tell you it is not only the correct option, but the best one? British Columbia thinks so, and recently enacted legislation requiring just that: On high-speed roadways, you are permitted to use the left – passing lane – only for overtaking, shifting to allow someone to merge, prepping for a left hand turn or passing emergency vehicles on the roadside. You know, all those things that should be self-evident.

Here’s the deal: Breaking the speed limit will indeed warrant a ticket if you’re caught. But extend your interpretation of the law one step further and put your law-abiding butt in the right-hand lane. Cops end up dancing on the head of a pin with this one, obligated to state they will ticket speeders, but unable to ignore the fact studies repeatedly reveal that left-lane hogs are dangerous and cause crashes. Everybody moving at similar speeds is the safest scenario.

I admit there is some tricky wordplay going on in many of our legal tomes. “Flow of traffic” can mean so many things, though mostly it means “flow of traffic.” If congestion has reduced safe speeds to a fraction of the posted limit, it means that reduced speed is the flow of traffic. If everyone is singing along on a sparsely populated highway even at a number above the posted limit, that is the flow of traffic. If that makes you uncomfortable or you’re not the gambling sort, well, there is an answer just for you: Move to the right.

A recent AutoTrader survey revealed that Canadians rank texting and talking while driving as their number one pet peeve (30 per cent). Tareqhassan speed ranked second (25 per cent), followed closely (!) by tailgating (20 per cent). I think if you tweaked the survey to account just for abhorred highway behaviour, you’d find the driving speed issue climb. I would wager most tailgating is fallout from that driving speed, meaning the number climbs even higher. We could always go for the hat trick, of course – idiots on their phones parked in the passing lane with a string of tailgaters on their arse. So many tickets, so little time.

There are two distinct categories of left-lane hogs – those who are oblivious to all that is going on around them, and those who are “teaching you a lesson.” Oblivious drivers do annoying things that can prove dangerous, but road teachers are passive-aggressive fools. Acknowledging anecdotes aren’t evidence, I was raised by a man who, though a pretty great driver in every other regard, considered it a threat to his masculinity if someone tried to pass him. He wasn’t a left-lane hog, but he’d have that station wagon whipped into an eight-cylinder froth to make sure nobody was going faster than he was. It was through my dad I learned that driving is a combative sport for some, and while I’ve seen a lot of females do some really dangerous things, 34 years behind the wheel has taught me much of the worst road aggression sits atop a Y chromosome.

Most dangerous of all, however, is when a passive-aggressive fool – a left-lane hog deciding to demonstrate the speed limit – meets up with a purely aggressive fool – the tailgater. There’s that chicken or the egg question: Do people only tailgate when ”forced” to? I’ve driven with enough morons to know that someone can’t make you drive aggressively or stupidly; that’s all on you. But upping the stakes by provoking people is ridiculous, and I’d like to see the rest of the country adopt B.C.’s new law.

People will abide by laws they think are reasonable. And people are pretty reasonable, believe it or not. If they weren’t, we’d have total anarchy instead of endless lineups at Timmies as people patiently wait for their double-double. But many of our speed limits are artificially low (argue away, that’s my opinion), leading to many drivers in many places driving over the limit – not stunt driving levels of stupid, just speeds the roads were engineered to facilitate when conditions are good.

Enforcement has always been focused on the speed bandits, as it should be. But let’s go after the other outliers – those who are too dim or too obstinate to realize driving is a team sport with repercussions far beyond their four-wheeled fiefdom.

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