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Why drivers still refuse to budge from the left lane

Published October 23, 2012


One of the most common driving peeves I hear from Wheels readers and motorists centres on the dreaded “left lane bandit”. Obviously this particular bad driving habit is easily one of the most annoying errors made by motorists.

There are two reasons why motorists will not leave the left lane open for passing.

1. Ignorance – they are unaware of the Highway Traffic Act (Section 147) and the ensuing traffic chaos caused by their illegal occupation of the left lane

2. Selfishness – they simply do not care that they are instigating “lane hopping”, road rage and other traffic troubles as drivers try to find a way around the rolling blockade.

Hogging the left lane does not only occur on our large divided multi-lane highways. It also happens on all of our urban or semi-rural, undivided, multi-lane roads as well. Many driving experts have cited Section 147 of our HTA that states you should use the right lane unless passing. Yes, motorists can be ticketed for impeding traffic flow by driving slower than others in the left lane.

More: 10 common traffic violation myths

More: A sobering lesson for distracted drivers

Driving in the left lane on these roads can not only be annoying to most motorists, but it can also be very deadly. If our “left lane bandits” won’t move over for legal or compassionate reasons, then perhaps if they look at it from a more selfish point of view, they may want to rethink their driving strategy.

Many of these undivided multi-lane roads have a posted speed limit of anywhere from 70 to 100 km/h. This means that two vehicles coming from opposing directions will have a “closing speed” of anywhere from 140 to over 200 km/h. This simply means they are approaching each other at a rate of up to 200 km/h with little more than a metre width of asphalt and a yellow line between them.

The outcome of a collision at those speeds is likely to be fatal regardless of the vehicles involved. Motorists may feel comforted by the fact that the yellow line indicates passing is not allowed to occur. However, that is not a “magic yellow line”. An errant vehicle will not bounce off the centre line and back into its own lane.

According to a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “most head-on crashes are likely to result from a motorist making an unintentional maneuver – the driver falls asleep, is distracted (cell phone, stereo etc.) or travels too fast in a curve.” There are other factors such as alcohol impairment, which we all know can lead to vehicles unintentionally crossing the centre line. Only 4.2 per cent of head-on collisions involved passing or overtaking another vehicle.

This same study showed that only one-third of these head-on collisions occurred on a curved portion of road. The other two thirds involved a vehicle going out of its lane on a tangent.

In other words, most head-on collisions had nothing to do with passing. They can occur at any time on any stretch of undivided highway. All that is required is for the driver of the vehicle coming toward you to decide to answer their cell phone, change the CD in the stereo, engage in a sneezing fit or doze off. Quite possibly, that driver has had too much to drink. Most of it is human error and most of it happens all too often.

If that vehicle does inadvertently cross the centre line while you are occupying the left lane, you have very little, if any, time to react and often no options. Should you have chosen to drive in the right lane, you have more than doubled your reaction time and your options.

You have a choice to drive in the right lane which will give you at least three or four metres of buffer zone, or stay in the left lane and play the part of the “Hell Drivers” (a stunt driving team at the CNE in the 1960s who would drive towards each other at a high rate of speed only to pass by the other car with about a metre to spare! Sound familiar?).

On some roads, driving in the right lane also gives you the shoulder of the road to use as an escape route. With no traffic on your right-hand side, the shoulder of the road can be an easy avoidance route to dodge trouble. Any motorist driving onto the shoulder either intentionally or accidentally must remember to steer as smoothly as possible to remain in control of the vehicle while on the shoulder.

The choice in my opinion is a “no-brainer” – the right lane.

I have raced cars on ice, blasted up the back straight of Mosport in a Touring GT Honda at 200 km/h in the rain and worked underwater filming sharks during a feeding frenzy, but driving in the left lane on an undivided highway is what I call scary and what traffic studies say is deadly.

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