How highway lane courtesy prevents car accidents

Emmet Pierce

Anyone who has experienced the frustration of following a slow-moving vehicle that won't move out of the left lane understands the need for greater courtesy on the highway.

Unfortunately, some drivers think it's OK to remain in the fast lane, no matter how many people they inconvenience. John Bowman, communications director for the National Motorists Association (NMA), says that refusing to yield does more than just impede the flow of traffic.

"It's a safety issue," he says. "If you have somebody tailgating you because you are going slowly, you increase the chance of a rear-end accident."

To spread the word about the dangers of slow left-lane driving, NMA, a driver advocacy group based in Wisconsin, sponsors Lane Courtesy Month every June.    

How highway lane courtesy can stop car accidents

Observing lane courtesy makes sense, says Michael Barry, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. Because car insurance costs are based on the perceived risks posed by policyholders, each accident you’re involved in increases your chances of having your car insurance rates raised.

Along with promoting lane courtesy, the NMA advocates for what it calls "realistic" travel speeds. The organization holds that when speed limits are set too low, they encourage people to break the law by speeding. The NMA opposed the national 55 mph maximum speed limit, which was implemented in 1974 to encourage greater fuel efficiency.

The law later was modified to allow up to 65 mph limits on some limited access and rural roads. It was repealed completely in 1995, but the NMA says many motorists have yet to get the message.

The group holds that many Americans developed slow-driving habits that today result in inappropriate use of the left lane on freeways and multiple-lane highways.

Some slow drivers may not be aware they are blocking traffic. To signal that you want to use the left lane, the NMA recommends that you turn on your left turn signal. It that doesn't work, briefly flash your headlights. Ideally, the slower driver will merge right.

Tips on how to keep the left lane clear

The NMA says showing courtesy pays off. Here are four good reasons for keeping the left lane open for passing vehicles:

1. You'll see improved gas mileage.

When cars are able to maintain their speed without unnecessary breaking and accelerating, fuel economy improves. In situations where drivers are forced to frequently apply their brakes and then accelerate, mileage per gallon can decrease by 33 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

2. You won't have to deal with road rage.

Road rage is a major cause of traffic mishaps. By keeping the left lane available for faster drivers, you'll avoid conflicts with other motorists. Psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness," says drivers who get stuck behind slow cars quickly become frustrated. "It instills a sense of helplessness in the driver," she says. "When we feel helpless our stress level goes way up. Road rage happens when the stress level is high." 

If you are unable to pass a slow driver, Lombardo recommends that you control your anger by breathing deeply and focusing on positive thoughts.

3. You'll reach your destination sooner.

Surrendering the left lane to faster traffic reduces highway congestion and prevents traffic bottlenecks.

4. You'll avoid getting a ticket for driving too slowly.

Most states have laws that prohibit motorists from driving at slow speeds that prevent the normal and reasonable flow of traffic . John Langan, a former police traffic officer who works as a driving safety consultant in Warminster, Pa., says the slower you drive below the speed limit, the larger your fine generally will be, when you are ticketed.

Driving below the speed limit can result in a fine of several hundred dollars and possibly even the suspension of your license, he adds. The penalty can be as stiff as if you were driving at an excessive speed. It all depends on how great a danger you pose to other drivers by impeding the flow of traffic.

"You are out of sync with traffic and people have to weave in and out of traffic to get around you," he says. "It could cause a serious collision."

Rick Ward, director of auto claims for MetLife Auto & Home, says any tickets you receive -- whether they are for speeding or driving too slowly -- will be factored in when your auto insurance rates are determined.


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