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Highway Etiquette: A Question

I’ve got a highway etiquette question for you. Imagine the following:

* You’re driving on an interstate highway. When you have the choice, you like to drive 53 miles per hour.

* Ahead of you in the right lane is a car driving 52.5 miles per hour. You pull into the left lane to pass, which will take a while.

* Coming up behind you in the left lane is a car driving 56 miles an hour.

What do you think is the thing to do according to highway etiquette?

20 comments to Highway Etiquette: A Question

  • Well, the Right Thing would have been to notice the faster car before you changed lanes. Failing that, though, it depends:

    * If there’s plenty of room to move back to the right lane immediately, I’d say do so; better to avoid antagonizing the car behind you.

    * If not, I’d say speed up to 55 to pass, then go back to the right lane.

    It’s reasonable for the car behind you to expect you to go the speed limit in the left lane; it’s not reasonable for them to demand you go faster; it’s probably unwise for you to change back and forth too quickly.

  • I agree. I think it’s okay to speed up temporarily to get safely ahead of the 52.5 car before merging right again.

  • I agree, too. Let me complexify things a bit.

    Add 10 miles an hour to the speeds, and imagine that the speed limit is 60 miles per hour. Does that change things?

    Or imagine you’re the car that’s traveling faster, and there’s a car in the passing lane that’s ahead of you, passing a car on the right but oh so slowly. Is annoyance legitimate?

  • Jenna

    Yes, it’s legitimate, because it’s accepted practice to go faster in the left lane and/or use it for passing. Everyone knows this, and this is an *etiquette* question, after all. And since it is a matter of etiquette, annoyance is acceptable, but horn-honking and rude gesturing are not.

    J.S., I must disagree. It may not be Right, or Kind, or even Ethical, but it is Reasonable for the car behind you to expect you to exceed the speed limit in the left lane.

  • The answer depends on which country you are in.
    There are countries where you may overtake in any lane.
    Here in Germany, it is now (1/1/5) illegal to overtake “too slowly”.
    IN Scandinavia with their draconic fines the locals overtake with speed differentials of < 1 km/h staying under their speed limit.
    I overtook as quickly as I could and then got fined for speeding :-(

  • The answer depends on which country you are in.
    There are countries where you may overtake in any lane.
    Here in Germany, it is now (1/1/5) illegal to overtake “too slowly”.
    IN Scandinavia with their draconic fines the locals overtake with speed differentials of under 1 km/h staying under the speed limit.
    I overtook German-style there, and got nicked for speeding :-(

  • I agree with Jenna.

    If I correctly understand the example, Car A is going 63 mph, passing Car B, which is going 62.5 mph. If you are in the left lane in Car C, going 66 mph, there would be little or no perceptible difference in the speeds of Car A and Car B. In other words, it would appear that Car A is simply blocking the left lane. In the U.S., at least, the left lane is for passing. Annoyance is reasonable. Tailgating, gestures, honking, etc, are not.

    If you are in Car A and you see Car C coming up behind you at a faster rate of speed, it is perfectly logical and even polite to speed up briefly in order to complete the process of passing.

    The new law in Germany sounds very useful to me, but I won’t bother to wish for something similar here. As it is, even in states where there are signs saying “Keep right except to pass,” people putter along in every lane, match each others’ speeds, etc.

    Let me add another wrinkle. Let’s say you are on a longish road trip. Perhaps it’s a holiday weekend, when lots of people are making the same drive. Say you wish to drive at exactly the posted speed limit of 65. A car passes you at a significantly higher rate of speed (70 or 75), and then gets in front of you and gradually reduces speed to 64 or so. You increase your speed slightly to pass this other car, but five or ten minutes after settling back down to 65, the process begins all over again. What is the best way to handle this?

  • Jenna

    Stop someplace for a cup of coffee, then proceed calmly with the insane person miles away from you.

  • Wendy

    Just quit driving. You obviously failed driver’s Ed.

  • Actually, Wendy, I did rather well in driver’s ed.

    Here are some educational opportunities you might take advantage of.

  • Wendy

    Yuk Yuk Yuk, Matt D.

    Actually, I was referring to the writer, J. Matthew,
    Here’s a course you might find useful!

  • You wrote 8 words, directed specifically to no one, as the 10th post in a thread. Please note how all the posts before yours refer to each other, as in a conversation. In comment #4 when Jenna disagreed with a previous comment, she mentioned the poster by initials. It’s just common sense that your post would refer to the last posts, not the first, unless you specify otherwise. Guessing that your post was directed to a particular person who had not posted in more than a day would be ESP, not reading comprehension.

  • Wendy

    Oh , so sorry!!!! Now I get it. You thought my comment was referring to you (there’s a name for self-importance complexes) and so you were offended and felt the urge to make a snide remark back at me! Well, go ahead, point taken, I am crushed by the thought that I might have offended you personally, MattD, so any slams you want to make on me are most appreciated and extremely deserved.

    Now to your post. Let’s look at J.C.’s 2nd statement that modified this.”Add 10 miles an hour to the speeds, and imagine that the speed limit is 60 miles per hour. Does that change things? ”

    Here’s the key part of your (did I identify you sufficiently?) reply:”If you are in Car A and you see Car C coming up behind you at a faster rate of speed, it is perfectly logical and even polite to speed up briefly in order to complete the process of passing. ”

    So you’re already doing 63 mph in a 60mph zone, and you think it is perfectly “logical” to speed up even more over the speed limit in the left lane, just because you’re passing? Try explaining that to a police officer if he lasers you while you’re “passing”. I think the proper driver’s Ed. response would be to drive in the right lane below the speed limit and stay out of the way of speeders.

    In your example, you still suggest speeding even more. My reply, while originally to the main topic, is still valid for you. Where in your excellent driver’s training do they condone speeding?
    I’d love to read your manual!

    In truth, what you should do in your case is either report the driver on a cell phone, pull over as suggested (or slow way down for a while and let him get far ahead of you) or cry a lot.

  • Wendy

    Also, to get back to the main poster,J.Matthew,(I get you and the “other” one confused, sorry)do you really drive like such an old man on the interstate all the time? No offense really, but I’m assuming you’re under 70. Were you just being funny with this post, or would you seriously consider pulling out into the left lane (with your cruise stuck at 53) and passing another car at one-half mile an hour differential, and make other people wait behind you while you’re doing it???? You couldn’t possibly be that rude on the road. That’s the kind of stuff that feeds road rage.

    MattD.’s situation happened to me years ago with a kid in a Camaro. This was in a very remote area long before cell phones, so I had to deal with it. But what he describes is obviously someone playing with you, and it could turn deadly. He would be a fool to just pass a guy that just passed you and immediately slowed down in front of you to make you pass him again. He’s sizing you up, and could end up running you off the road for his/her own purposes. I can’t believe you would have played into it by passing him again. I hope you didn’t have your family with you; you put them at risk. At least you said it was a holiday weekend, so there were probably lots of cars around. You should at least in today’s world carry one of those “emergency” cell phones for these occasions. They not only could save your life, but also help get wackos off the road.

    There’s a name for the J. Matthew types. They’re called LLB’s for Left Lane Bandits. They slow down cars that are traveling at a constant speed (which for their car, might be more efficient at a higher speed than you) and waste gas speeding back up again. You shouldn’t use the other countries as examples. They have different rules than us, and he was clearly talking about U.S. roads, since he used “interstate” and mph.

    In Germany, if you tried that, a car would be coming up behind you at 220kph and flashing his lights at you like crazy, if you were crazy enough to pass that way there.

  • “so you were offended and felt the urge to make a snide remark back at me!”

    Yes, I was offended, because what you wrote was offensive and snide. I took it as a personal insult. Though it was not directed at me, as you have explained, it is still an insult, which you seem to be sticking to and spreading around more, based on your last posts.

    I apologize if I was snide in return. I was angry, yes, but I was kind of aiming for a light touch. I obviously missed the target, and again, I apologize. This was a perfectly polite little thread, and I found your post to be very jarring. I can’t help wondering what exactly you hoped to accomplish, beyond offending someone – J. Matthew, if not me.

  • Wendy

    Sorry to have caused you pain. You don’t need to apologize to me; my feelings are not so easily hurt that your Carnegie remark in any way upset me. It was rather phunnie.

    As far as offending anyone, not my intention. But J. Matt’s post is rather silly and pointless. It sounds like he drives like an old man, taking forever to pass someone in the left lane of the interstate going 53 miles an hour. And someone that was moving faster came up behind him, probably flashed his lights and beeped his horn because this slowpoke didn’t either speed up a tad or move over. Maybe he also got the finger, and he’s upset. Why else would he post this silly situation? Does he expect agreement? Condoning his left lane ignorance? Or maybe he’s the other person, who was annoyed and couldn’t pass. I don’t know; he’s not giving out the whole story obviously. Maybe if he was honest and told us the whole story as it happened, not changing the speeds etc., he might get a more substantial response. As it is, the story is too lame to warrant it.

  • Bernard

    I like Wendy’s answer. It sounds like J.Matt didn’t do too well in driver’s ed. And Matt and Jenna both seem to have advocated speeding in their responses. Speeding can kill you know.

    Bad liberals. Bad. Bad. Bad.

  • As I recall, Bernard, you are the person who characterized “Either of you two geniuses ever heard of Amazon?” as playful and loving. So I’m not surprised you liked Wendy’s answer.

  • Bernard

    Ah yes, I wish I hadn’t forgetten the little smileys ;) !

    But how about returning to the actual subject matter for a change,
    my friend?

    Where in your driver’s ed. that you supposedly excelled in does it state that it’s fine to exceed the speed limit (in the left lane or otherwise) if it’s just for passing ? Have you tried that one on a traffic officer sucessfully yet? Or is that just one of the questions you did get wrong. Nobody’s perfect, so that’s acceptable too. You don’t need them all correct to pass the test, do you?

    Maybe you live in a state where speeding for passing is officially condoned. Like a state of confusion. ;) ;) ;)

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