NMA E-Newsletter #317: “Courteous” Driver the True Obstruction

Last week’s e-newsletter
really stirred up member response with an overwhelming number of you rejecting the Seattle driver’s approach to trying to single-handedly wipe out traffic jams and backups. The consensus was that he was obstructing traffic and should have stayed in the far right lane to let faster traffic pass. We agree. Here are a few of the many comments we received.

From Bill Young, Jr., Minnesota: 

While he seems to think he is “on to something” and helping, he is holding up everyone behind him, a primary cause of road rage. He is a slow-moving obstruction as seen by all the traffic going around him! And he ends up in stop-and-go anyway. Truck drivers often do this “road block” and it ticks off everyone behind them. In Minnesota, we are trying to educate motorists to the zipper merge. MNDOT has had numerous commercials promoting this. The fact is, all highway systems seem to be grossly inadequate for peak traffic volumes, but the zipper merge seems to be the very best solution, outside of more adequate highway systems.

From Willis Weldin, Delaware:

With very few exceptions, I do not believe in courtesy on the road. If it’s your “right of way,” take it. This is what other drivers expect and helps keep traffic flowing smoothly. We’ve all seen cases where someone stops to let a person make a left turn through traffic only to have another driver come up on the right shoulder (lane) unaware of the driver making the left turn. My rule of thumb is courtesy can kill you. If it’s your right of way, take it. It’s what other drivers expect you to do.

From C. Johnson, California:

In theory it looks good but not all drivers are interested in being kind and generous. In years past when I did a lot of freeway driving I tried to leave the required space in front of me. It never worked. There were always those who would squeeze in. Many drivers would not even look, they would just put on their blinkers and move into your lane, whether it was safe or not. This act requires one to be ever vigilant. There are also those who squeeze into a mere car’s length in front of you then try to squeeze into the next lane—all this because they did not plan ahead, knowing where their turnoff was. Maybe this fellow’s plan works in Seattle, but I doubt he would do well in Los Angeles where he would hardly ever have the luxury of having such a long length of free road space ahead of him during the daily commute times.

From Jim Toscas, Illinois:

These principles of courtesy are commendable and can work, in theory. Reality, however, is much different. The driver who leaves a generous interval and maintains a constant speed in a “rubber-banding” traffic pattern will likely simply experience people cutting in front of him. As this is repeated, the net result is to slow the average speed of the lane behind him. He in effect becomes a mild obstacle.

The biggest source of traffic difficulties in the US is the failure of individual drivers to recognize their responsibilities to facilitate the overall safe traffic flow, as well as tend to their own progress. Especially with the younger generations, “it’s all about me.” This means reduced (or nonexistent) situational awareness, lack of predictability and generally selfish driving behavior. A good example is the jerk who cuts in front of a semi at speed and then hits the brakes. Contrast this with drivers on the German Autobahn, who (until recent years) observed road courtesy meticulously.

When I need to, I can whiz through and around traffic with the best of them. But I rarely need to any more. I try to strike a fair balance between accommodating the few drivers who are obviously in a big hurry (they may have a valid case for urgency, or they may just be frenetic drivers—I don’t know and don’t care) and facilitating the smooth flow of traffic. It works for me—I’m accident-free for nearly 50 years.

From Anatoly Arutunoff, Oklahoma:

A Belgian friend says that the law there tells you to drive right up to the merge point and then zipper in; he told me many people don’t know that’s the law—you can tell which ones by their extreme annoyance when someone does that. I kind of like the British way of using hundreds if not a thousand or more five-foot-tall cones, edge to edge, narrowing the lane for about a half mile. That really gets your attention, too.

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