It has recently – as in, the past few days – come to my attention that there is a distinct lack of etiquette amongst today’s highway drivers. In truth, it came to my attention long ago, but given that I just spent two plus days behind the wheel let’s just let that slide.
The contributory factors to this lack of etiquette are varied; substandard education, cellphones, human nature, you name it. But the fact of the matter is that it’s 2007, and we should all expect more of our Interstate driving experience. Given that driving instructors will teach you only the basics, I felt compelled to flesh out – as best I can – some of the nuances.
To that end, I’ve compiled what I feel might be some useful guidelines – and feel free to chime in in the comments with your own suggestions. They’re aimed at the worst of the drivers I encountered over the past few days, rather than yourselves, but maybe it’ll spur some useful discussion.
On Being Passed
For reasons that are their own, some drivers do not like being passed. They might try to block you from passing them, but more commonly they’ll attempt to match speed as they are in the process of being passed (and interestingly, they usually slow way down after they are, in fact, passed). Some suggestions for any of you that might feel that way.
- Some cars will want be comfortable with higher speeds, there’s nothing wrong with that.
- A car going faster than you does not diminish you in any way (unless you’re racing, in which case it diminishes you greatly).
- Rather than speed up, you might try slowing a mile an hour or two to facilitate the passing process.
- You may also consider, particularly when larger vehicles such as trucks are involved, signaling the passing driver with your high beams when he’s achieved sufficient distance
On longer drives, you may find yourself joining dynamic aggregations of two or more cars, for safety and – perhaps – entertainment purposes. These ad-hoc collectives will typically share similar comfort levels in terms of velocity, and mitigate risk the risk of tickets by traveling together, much as antelopes and other plains animals minimize the threat of predators by traveling in herds.
Some general rules and thoughts regarding convoys:
- There are two primary roles in any convoy: point (the car out front), and rear (the car in back). In convoys of more than two cars, cars will obviously occupy positions between these two.
- The lowest risk role, in terms of the likelihood of earning a ticket, is the middle slot, followed by rear, and finally point. This is due to the fact that the most likely positioning for a police car is stationary, in which case the car on point is the most likely target (unless it’s a multiple cop car trap, in which case you’re all at risk). The second most likely possibility is the rogue cop car, one cruising the highway in search of speeders; in this case, the rear car is most at risk. In all cases, the middle car is the least likely to be issued a ticket.
- It may seem logical, then, to try and secure – if possible – a middle position in any convoy. This is indeed a recommended practice, but it is also unreasonable to expect one member of the convoy to bear a disproportionate amount of risk. You should, therefore, “volunteer” for higher risk positions by deliberately assuming them. The car on point may in fact “suggest” this by perceptibly slowing from the previously established acceptable velocity, allowing someone else to take the lead for a while.
- If, due to congestion or other factors, one member of your convoy becomes hemmed in by traffic, it is your obligation to create – if possible – a reentry point for him in said convoy. Slow to create a space and use your brights as necessary to signal.
- Depending on the distance traveled with the convoy, it is also customary to give a honk and/or wave if you exit from the group early.
On High Beams
Using your high beams to indicate displeasure or frustration with another driver is both illegal and potentially dangerous, so I recommend against it (and do not use them in this fashion myself).
If, for some reason, you fell you’re entitled to a special exemption to the rules in a direct violation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, here are some rules you can follow to minimize your offense.
- The little blue headlights icon on your dashboard means the high beams are on. If it’s lit when other cars – coming or going – are in sight, you deserve to be brighted yourself.
- Brighting the car in front of you just after you arrive at that position is unacceptable; it should be given between one and two minutes to complete any necessary passing and repair to one of the travel lanes.
- Brighting the car in front of you when it in turn has multiple cars in front of you is unacceptable; before using your nuclear option in terms of driver to driver communication, you may want to determine whether the driver you’re going to bright is actually the problem.
- If you bright the driver in front of you, and said driver moves to the right to allow you to pass, you must pass. Brighting drivers and then dithering around in the passing lane is completely unacceptable.
On Lane Usage
While our highway systems are not the equal of some of those you’ll find abroad – particularly in Germany – they are more than adequate for most domestic travel if used appropriately. The difficulty, of course, is that very few individuals use them appropriately.
Drivers today seem almost oblivious to what lane they are in; I’ve even had friends freely admit to traveling in the passing lane, and express surprise at my indignation. Clearly, these people have never tried to get anywhere on I-84 in Connecticut (which is populated by the worst offenders of the rules below in the country, perhaps the world).
If you’re at all unclear on the rules of lane usage, here are some suggestions.
- Within legal and – importantly – practical limits, you have the right to travel the speed you wish
- You do not, however, have the right to travel the speed you wish in the lane you wish
- If the roadway is not congested, and you’re going roughly (+/- 3 MPH) the same speed as the car to your immediate right, you’re in the wrong lane. Pull over.
- If it takes you more than 60 seconds to pass someone, you’re in the wrong lane. Pull over.
- If you’re on a cellphone, Blackberry or other device and you’re in the passing lane, you’re in the wrong lane. Pull over.
- If the roadway is not congested, and you’re in the passing lane for more than a few minutes, you’re in the wrong lane. Pull over.
- If you’re intentionally trying to obstruct traffic in the passing lane to “make it more safe,” you’re in the wrong lane. Pull over.
- If other vehicles are passing you on the right, you’re in the wrong lane. Pull over.
- If you learned to drive in Connecticut, and you’re in the left hand lane, chances are you’re in the wrong lane. Pull over.
The net? Stay out of the passing lane. Except for passing. How hard can that be?
Given the reality that different drivers have different comfort levels regarding speed, passing is an inevitable part of the driving experience. Done correctly, it should be a simple and painless process for both drivers. Done incorrectly, it introduces uncertainty and – more problematically – danger into the equation. A few thoughts on passing.
- Passing should be done as quickly and efficiently as possible; if you’re only going a mile an hour faster than the car you’re to pass, and it will take several minutes to effect a pass, ask yourself whether you actually need to make the pass in question.
- While passing should be done as quickly as possible, it should be a smooth process. Highways are not Indy tracks, and quick cuts in and out of lanes are not going to win you any points.
- When confronted with obstinate drivers who are convinced of their right to travel in the passing lane, passing on the right is acceptable. It is imperative, however, that such transitions are effected quickly because bad drivers often do not account for the fact that they are to be passed on the right.
As inevitable as passing, speeding is a fact of life on today’s highways. Moreover, it’s my belief that this is tacitly acknowledged if not encouraged by today’s legal infrastructure. Set aside the fact that there are municipalities all over the country that appear to derive substantial revenues from the issuance of speeding tickets (yeah, I’m looking at you, Claverack), and consider the following: on any Interstate highway that issues tickets, there’s a very simple formula for restricting if not eliminating speeding tickets – time stamps. Stamp a time in on the ticket, and if they reach their destination before they should have they get a ticket (yes, you could still hang out at a rest stop for an hour and then speed, but is that really all that appetizing?). Simple, but never been enacted. Why? Because it’s in nobody’s best interests to curtail speeding.
Townships and municipalities lose out on ticket revenue, people and goods alike would take significantly longer to reach their destination, and insurance companies lose the ability to tax customers for their “bad behavior.” Not to mention the inconvenience.
So assuming that individuals will – and should be able to – speed on occasion, here are some suggestions.
- Be consistent. Do not range from the speed limit to 15 over to 5 under to 20 over; pick a small range and match that. This will allow other drivers to react appropriately to your progress.
- Do not be an idiot. I can’t stress this one enough. Whether it’s the guy that blows by going 110 or the SUV that passes you in a blizzard going 90, these people give legitimate speeders like you and me a bad name. Consider conditions: the weather, the traffic, your car, your tires, your relative alertness and so on when you determine your appropriate speed. And don’t go any faster than you need to.
- What is appropriate? This all depends on your comfort level. To be sure of not getting a ticket, keep it to 5 over. On the interstates, you’ll probably be ok at 8-10 over – probably. 10-15, you’ll occasionally get by, but are at a high risk of being stopped. 15+ and you’re almost certainly going to be issued a ticket. At 20+ in CT, as an FYI, you risk being taken to jail.
- If you’re going to speed, and particularly if you’re far from home, I highly recommend having an up-to-date registration on you. Just trust me on this one.