Keep left unless overtaking. Why do drivers ignore this rule?

This topic has been so well covered by motoring magazines over the past few years that it almost seems like a cliché to write about it. But it annoys me so much that I’m going to write about it anyway – even if it’s only for my own mental well-being.

We have a strange breed of driver in Australia – the right-lane hog. I’m not sure exactly what mental affliction creates the urge in people to devote traveling in the right-hand lane, but we have all seen and experienced the infuriating arrogance and ignorance of these people too many times to count. It is the behaviour which can ruin a good trip and turn a usually calm driver into a raging fit of expletive laden yelling.

The number of times I have seen someone enter a highway and immediately cross 2 or 3 lanes just to sit steadily in the right-most lane simply astounds me. It’s as if they’re securing their own little patch of road, just in case they ever need to be in the right hand lane sometime in the distant future. Because then they won’t have to work out how to merge with other traffic – they will already be in the correct lane to overtake should the circumstance ever arise. Which it doesn’t. Because oftentimes, these drivers are not only traveling at speeds so slow that you begin to question the very nature of time itself, but they are also paying so little attention to their surroundings that you wonder whether they are even fully conscious.

dsc06590Of course, if you find yourself stuck behind these people, you will go through the obligatory list of tactics to try and encourage the driver to move left. Sitting close to their bumper, flashing your lights, and perhaps even a few toots of the horn. All of this obviously accompanied by increasingly extensive and energetic flailing of the hands and arms to further communicate your sheer frustration. But nothing works. They continue to sit in the right hand lane, seemingly at peace in their own little world.

Eventually, you get tired of sitting behind them and, once the opportunity arises, you pull into the left lane and pass them, perhaps giving them the glaring of a lifetime as you pass. You get in front and continue your journey, still seething at the incomprehensible attitude of the driver you just passed.

I vividly remember one of these experiences, as I was stuck behind a driver in the right-hand lane, who was level-pegging with the driver next to him. For those of you who don’t understand level-pegging, it occurs when two drivers match their speed and drive next to each other. This makes it impossible to overtake on a two-lane highway. This driver level-pegged for close to 20km, with my mental composure further decaying as each kilometre went by. Eventually, the driver dropped back just enough to create a gap for my car to fit through. It was a small gap, and in normal circumstances I would not have used it. But I was desperate and I made my way through. The slow driver was furious – he flashed his lights, tooted the horn and went through the whole anger routine himself.

I was curious though, when another driver who was also stuck behind the slow car followed me through the gap. He had been stuck behind for just as long as me and I assumed he was just as frustrated. I didn’t think much of it, until he began flashing his red and blue lights on the dashboard. An undercover cop, of course.

I pulled over and he proceeded to lecture me on the nature of safe driving. I asked him whether he through it was appropriate that someone sit in the right-hand lane for 20km and not overtake a single vehicle in the process. But he wasn’t interested in that discussion. 10 minutes and a $300 ticket later, I was back on my way, genuinely believing that my anger would send me into an irrecoverable coma at any moment.

ngycjzqNow I have spent the last few months living in Europe. Having made several trips through various western European countries, I can say that this appears to be a uniquely Australian problem. Drive on one of Germany’s famed autobahns and you will quickly realise how seriously Germans take lane etiquette. Not so in Australia.

Perhaps this is because police are only choosing to enforce certain road rules, primarily speeding, while ignoring others. Perhaps it’s because parents teach their children to drive without consideration for other drivers. Perhaps it’s just a sense of entitlement on the road, and people don’t like the idea of having to yield to other drivers. Or perhaps it is the result of decades of driving safety campaigns creating a driving culture whereby people believe that as long as they are going slow, they are being safe and nothing else is important. I don’t know exactly. But I do see the effects. Road rage and risk taking behaviour, all avoidable if people just showed a bit more courtesy and awareness on the roads. It’s not difficult. In fact, it’s just common-sense.


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