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From the Archive: Road Etiquette

I just rediscovered this in a long-forgotten folder on my computer.  An oldie but goodie…

“Mr. Roadshow” was (and, for all I know, may still be) a regular column in the San Jose Mercury News when I lived in the San Francisco Bay area.  Its subject, as might be inferred from the title, was traffic (and the ugly commuting conditions it created); and it generally included answering questions from and/or fostering discussions among the column’s readers.

One such discussion was an ongoing ‘bitch session’ between those who found ‘passive’ drivers annoying and dangerous and those who found ‘aggressive’ drivers equally annoying and dangerous (I’m afraid I have no link to the column to offer; it was too long ago).  Nothing, of course, was resolved.  Mr. Roadshow, himself, was clearly and passionately on the side of those less aggressive, who lamented the weaving in and out of lanes and passing on the right and fast acceleration/fast braking they observed going on all around them.

This was my plea to Mr. Roadshow for a bit of even-handedness when considering those on the other side of the argument.

I don’t remember my letter being published.  Perhaps it was.  1998 was a long time ago and many things have happened since then to push the details out of my mind…

4 December 1998

Dear Mr. Roadshow,

I’ve been following the “debate” between those who wish to speed everyone up and those who wish to slow everyone down, and I can no longer stay silent.

I am, admittedly, an aggressive driver, probably one of those whose offenses — speeding, passing on the right, changing lanes frequently to pass slower cars — initiated this discussion.  Nonetheless, I can say with conviction that my general philosophy of driving is that I am sharing the road, and my goal is to minimize my effect on those driving around me.  That means accelerating when people are behind me, slowing when people are in front of me, using turn signals to let people know what I intend to do, ensuring there is a free lane in which people may pass, pulling over to let people by when there isn’t, leaving room for people to merge when I’m in the right lane, and generally being aware of the traffic around me and what it is doing.  I am not perfect, and my tread is not always as light as I intend.  But I try.

This attitude is, I’m afraid, in short supply on both sides of the argument.

From the letters I’ve read, it seems those on the side of slowing down, including Mr. Roadshow himself, have done a good job of stating the case and describing what we speed-freaks should not be doing; I would like to propose a few rules of thumb for the slowpokes, from the other perspective:

    • If there are cars lined up behind you and open road in front of you, it’s a good bet that you are impeding the flow of traffic, so let them go by.
    • If you are in the passing lane and the lane to your right is empty, you are in the wrong place.
    • If you are in the passing lane and going the same speed as the car to your right, you have created a rolling roadblock; either pull ahead or fall behind, but move over.
    • Many of our freeways have three or more lanes, and people are in the habit of cruising along in the middle, leaving a lane to pass on the left and avoiding the entering and exiting traffic on the right. That is fine — but, during carpool hours, the left lane is off-limits to most drivers, and the center lane is the de-facto passing lane; please treat it as such!

If you will grant me these few considerations, I can promise that you never again need worry about me following too closely or lane-hopping or passing on the right; there will be no reason to do so.

Finally, two more rules-of-thumb on a subject completely different but, in my opinion, even more dangerous:

    • No matter how much you wish to err on the side of caution and allow yourself margin, trying to merge onto a highway at 35mph is not easier or safer than merging at highway speed.
    • Having discovered just how difficult and dangerous such a merge can be, coming to a dead stop at the end of the on-ramp does not help matters.

As an end-note, I can remember a day when I was sitting at a table in the lunchroom at work (again, in the Silicon Valley).

There was a group of people at the table to my left having a heated discussion about how annoying it was to have people weaving in and out of traffic, passing on the right, accelerating like maniacs and then braking like maniacs when the came up behind the next slow car.

And, there was a group of people at the table to my right having a heated discussion about how annoying it was to have people blocking the passing lane at five miles per hour below the speed limit.

I found myself wanting to turn to both groups and yell, “You’re the people those other people are complaining about!”

© Copyright 1998, Augustus P. Lowell

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