Highway Driving; how we’re doing it wrong.

This is going to rub some people the wrong way.  It must be made known however.  Hundreds of thousands of people commute or travel on Ontario’s 400 series highways every year.  Hundreds of millions more on interstates and other multi-lane highways around the world.  Heck, even multi-lane roads in town can be tossed into this issue.  Nearly every one of the drivers who takes to these highways promptly forgets the most basic of driving lessons taught in driving school.

Every.  Single.  One.  That means you.  It also means me.  (trust me, I’ve been working on correcting this personally)

That simple lesson?  This:  the far right lane is the driving lane, and only that one.  All additional lanes are for PASSING only.  If you’re not passing, you’re in the far right lane.  Simple.  Before I get to the solution, what’s helped me personally at least, lets debunk arguments about staying in the right (gasp the “slow”) lane.

The right lane is the “slow” lane

Let’s get this one cleared up off the bat.  The far right lane is usually full of slower traffic on busy days; this is because its the driving lane.  However it is not reserved only for slower people or mean that driving in that lane requires slow speed.  If you’re moving fast but the right lane is clear, that’s where you should be.  Nobody will think less of you for being there, nobody except yourself perhaps.

I drive “X” speed so I should be in this lane

Okay, this has long been my default thinking for highway driving.  No matter how full or empty the highways, I was doing 120kph so I was entitled to the middle lane.  Used to get really frustrated at people going certain speeds in certain lanes.  I even, at one point, wanted to put highway signs over the lanes with certain speed ranges to force drivers into their spots.  This is probably one of the biggest driving systems people subscribe to and it’s wrong.  It leads to clogged lanes and traffic jams.

Alright, now let’s get to how driving on these highways should be.  Keeping these simple steps in mind as you drive will reduce stoppages and ease flow in congestion.  No, it won’t cure traffic jams but it will mean you will usually have a lane to slip into to pass before you return to the driving lane.  Others will also have lanes to pass you – yup that will happen – without holding up traffic behind them as well.  There are a few key points to driving as we were taught but there is one simple motto every driver should adopt:

“If you get passed on the right, move to the right”*

* When clear and safe to do so.

This is a surprisingly humbling motto to drive by on highways.  It’s been hard to personally apply it but it’s getting better.  Along with that universal motto there are several other driving habits to employ.  Note that none of these are new nor are any of them created by me.  It’s all common sense really.

  1. Stay in the right lane.  Boring and simple right?  When you’re driving you stay here.  Move left to make room for people entering the highway and make sure you keep spacing.  If you’re not passing you should move to the furthest right lane.  Hang out in the passing lane longer than the task of passing an you’re automatically creating a clog, no matter what your speed
  2. Pass only when there is a clearing to do so; drive at the speed of traffic in the new lane.  Two parts to this one.  When you are approaching someone in the (right) lane in front of you going slower, prepare to pass.  Check the traffic coming behind you.  If you see cars approaching fast slow down and wait to pass.  NEVER pull out into approaching faster traffic.  When you do have a gap, accelerate.  Turn off that cruise control and get up to the speed of traffic in the lane.  If traffic approaches from behind at a faster speed accelerate to complete your pass – if your speed is within reason.
  3. “Slow” or right lane passing.  This is something you may find yourself doing a lot in lighter traffic.  Because many will drive in the center lane both the far left and right lanes will be clear.  Instead of passing slower groups (who should be in the far right lane) on the left, pass them on the right.  Right lane passing may signal – if they’ve read this blog – the drivers to move into the slow lane.  It happens :).  Rarely.

If you’ve made it this far then perhaps you’re willing to accept the challenge.  Next time you hit the highway try to remember back to some of the basic lessons you got.  Let’s make driving a better experience for all of us!

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