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Driven to Extremes: Lane Etiquette

So, in a column last week I explored the issue of the passing lane on the highway. My basic point was this: There isn't a passing lane anymore. While the belief that the extreme left lane should be reserved only for overtaking vehicles may be strong in, say, Germany, in our neck of the woods it's kaput. On the Beltway, on I-66, on I-95, the reality is the same: Drivers do whatever it takes to get ahead, including passing on the right. It's like an episode of "Wacky Races" out there, with our vehicles spread out across an apocalyptic landscape, each one of us vying for an advantage, Dick Dastardly against Penelope Pitstop.

I revisit the topic in my column today and will do so again tomorrow. The flood of mail I received suggests someone could write a daily column about this issue, so vehement are the opinions held by both sides. The folks who think it's their god-given right to park in the left lane are as sure of themselves as those with itchy fingers on their headlight flashers. It's time for an informal poll. What do you think?

Perhaps the issue of lane etiquette might make a good topic for a "What Does It Mean to be a Washingtonian?" essay. This is the contest we're having. Just pen a 300-word essay that explores the unique experience of living in the Washington area--or be creative in another way: photos, a video, a rap song. I'll print our favorite entries in my column. Oh, and there's a $100 AmEx gift certificate for the top winner. Click here for details. The deadline is Dec. 31.

Strangeness in the Night

On a totally different topic: We're all glad that young Kamron Wells, the boy allegedly abducted in Fairfax County, was found safe. And it will be interesting to learn more about the circumstances, not least because the suspect is a former exotic dancer once charged with smuggling a pair of scissors into D.C. Superior Court to stab an ex-boyfriend. What I found most interesting was this line, about the man who notified police of Kamron's presence: "Milton Mooya, who lives in the house, said that an acquaintance, who he knows as Mike, knocked on his door about midnight Sunday, and asked to come inside with the woman and boy."

This is another reminder of just how boring my life is. Acquaintances hardly ever knock on my door at midnight with complete strangers in tow.

In Other News
I wonder if dry cleaners across America have Roy Pearson's picture taped up near their cash registers with a little sign: "Do not accept items from this man." Pearson is the former D.C. administrative law judge who sued a dry cleaners for $54 million for allegedly losing a pair of his pants. He's back in court today, no doubt hoping that this time he'll, um, clean up.

"Drill, baby, drill" is the chant we're hearing from some quarters these days. I have another suggestion on how to get much-needed fossil fuel: Invade the North Pole. Think about it: Where does Santa live? The North Pole. What do naughty boys and girls get in their stockings for Christmas? Coal. I don't know whether this is clean coal but this is a strategic reserve we should have our hands on. And you just know Santa has ordered a huge supply of bitumen for this holiday season. I mean the amount needed just for Wall Street vampires must be visible from space.

But you're wondering what we can give naughty boys who dip girls' pigtails in inkwells and naughty bank executives who take big bonuses while their institutions are being bailed if we're burning all of Santa's coal? Oh, there must be plenty of things. Britney Spears albums, for example. "KnightRider" DVDs. Post your suggestions in the Comments on newfangled ways to punish the naughty this holiday season.

This brings me to the best story in The Post today, about a Santa who has spread his lap at Tysons Corner Center for 18 years and just got the boot. Michael Graham just got the word from mall management that they've gone with someone else, too late for him to find a new gig. I suggest a "Santa Off." No, not a steal cage death match. Just put Graham at one end of the mall, the new Santa at the other and let the public decide who's jollier.

By John Kelly  |  October 21, 2008; 6:28 PM ET
 | Tags: driving, polls  
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Next: Scam, Scheme or Person in Need? You Tell Me


Not who's jollier - the real Santa brings you toys. That's what Mom told me and I'm sticking to it. Unfortunately, I've been on the naughty list for forty years.

Posted by: jimward21 | October 22, 2008 8:01 AM | Report abuse

This is just fan mail...followed you from Voxford and glad to see the blog. But why can't the Post web page put you in the list of bloggers...oh well, I've bookmarked you now. All good wishes.

Posted by: OldLady1 | October 22, 2008 8:02 AM | Report abuse

I'm one of those that thinks the left lane is for passing, and get annoyed with people that drive slow in it, but I also think that in many areas, the left lane needs to be used as a travel lane because traffic is so heavy. That said, I find it often makes sense to drive in the right (slow) lane, which is often the fastest. Weird.

But even so, I have the biggest problem with those people that tailgate you no matter what lane you are in and how fast you are driving. I'm all for driving fast. But these people are only satisfied if NOBODY is in front of them.

(and tailgating is stupid, but that's another story)

Posted by: jjtwo | October 22, 2008 8:15 AM | Report abuse

As you know, I am one of the *first* people to tell complete strangers how to lead better more legal lives, but I still believe the left lane is for the fastest drivers (not necessarily just for passing), and it is too dangerous for me to try to teach them driving lessons. I just get out of the way if someone comes up fast behind me, even if they don't flash. Road rage is all too real for my normal vigilante instincts to be allowed full reign. If they want to go 90, so be it, and I just hope they don't take anyone with them when they crash.

Posted by: rpkelly | October 22, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

I'm no slouch in the left lane, but if someone comes up behind me in a world of a hurry, I move over, because if there's a cop up the road with a radar gun, my chances of getting pulled over drop dramatically if there's someone ahead of me burning up the road.

Posted by: gilbertbp | October 22, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I'm also a follower from Voxford, but I have spent too much time on I-85 south not to know the left lane is only for passing! Once you get south of Richmond, people follow that rule religiously. Thanks for the great column and blog!

Posted by: TerpPhysicist | October 22, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

I'm with rpkelly, but no fair, John, getting your mom to blog...

Posted by: reddragon1 | October 22, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

People in the area seem to believe that their families bequeathed them the privilege of driving in a particular lane, and that if driving in the third lane was so important to Great-Grandpa that he put it into his will, then it would dishonor his memory to ever drive in any other lane, no matter if you're going faster than other traffic, or slower, or even at the exact same speed.

It drives me insane to be clipping along on I-95 and encounter a neat little echelon of cars in two or three lanes. It creates a choke point, and it makes people trying to get past have to squeeze through after changing lanes to get left, and then get back out of the way once they're past the blockage. The important thing (and the courteous thing) is to keep a speed differential between yourself and the lanes next to you, so you're not creating that kind of blockage; if you are only going to travel at the same speed as that other vehicle, get into that lane and stop blocking traffic!

You have to keep an awareness of what's going on around you. You cannot just blithely drive along, stuck in your own little world -- you have to be paying attention, and modifying your own actions to reflect the needs of the situation. If that means slowing down (or speeding up) a little, then do it. If it means moving over to let other traffic pass, then do it. If it means breaking up your rolling roadblock that is choking traffic for miles behind you, then do it!

Posted by: michaeln33 | October 22, 2008 9:46 AM | Report abuse

One thing to remember around here is that, on I-66 and I-270, the left lane is the HOV lane.

Posted by: wiredog | October 22, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

The report about the replacement of the Tyson's Santa was a bit mysterious. He was let go but the reasons are unclear. Wonder if there will be any protests from parents who saw him as children and who wish to take their own children now.

Posted by: cktirumalai | October 22, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I read between the lines that Tysons got a new photography company with a discount Santa. They hope the kids can't tell the difference. Nothing against Michael Graham.

Posted by: jimward21 | October 22, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

The Santa story continues. Michael Graham has found a lawyer and a Public Relations firm.

Posted by: cktirumalai | October 22, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

REDDRAGON1!! I am His Lovely Wife, not his mom. Ahem.

Posted by: rpkelly | October 22, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

He doesn't listen to me at home. I have to post.

Posted by: rpkelly | October 22, 2008 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Come on! I-85 is completely different than the Washington Beltway. Apples and oranges.
That being said, nobody drives 55 in the left lane of the beltway! I feel free to use the left lane if I'm going 75 or over. Of course, there's always someone who wants to go 85. Like George Carlin said, "Everyone who drives slower than me is a moron and everyone who drives faster than me is an idiot" (or something to that effect).

Posted by: bowiemd1 | October 22, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the great comments. I've got a week's worth of ideas now, though I'll try to wrap this up (for now) tomorrow.

JJTWO brings up an interesting point: Sometimes the right lane is the fastest, due, no doubt to all the slow people on the left. Buf it that's the case, should you have to slow down in the right lane to match what the speed "should" be?

MICHAELN33 has, I think, a fairly healthy attitude about this: Be aware of the world around you and drive accordingly.

CKTIRUMALAI: Yes, the mall management chose a new photo company and it came with its own Santa. I'm sure we haven't heard the end of that story.

Oh, and OldLady1, my blog is listed under the blogs if you go here:

Posted by: JohnFKelly | October 22, 2008 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and one more thing: Look at the results of my poll. About 15 percent say cruising in the left lane is fine; 85 percent say it isn't. This is an unscientific study but it matches almost perfectly the ratio of e-mails I've received on the subject.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | October 22, 2008 6:14 PM | Report abuse

First a declaration:I am British. I have been an occasional driver in the USA and Canada. It has been my experience that lane discipline in the USA is far superior to that of British motorists! This may in part be due to the sparse (by British standards)traffic to be found in the interstates outside the major cities etc.
Here, on our motorways (2or 3 lane divided roads)there is so much traffic that the slow lane is mainly inhabited by trucks and the occasional car driver who wants to drive at truck speeds!

Posted by: dickthickett | October 23, 2008 5:54 AM | Report abuse

Further to my last: this produces,particularly on three lanes (each direction)motorways a phenomenon I describe as the "frozen" diver. They seems unable to judge the relative speed of the traffic ahead and behind. They cannot therefore manage lane changes, and drive at set speeds in the center lane moving neither to right or left apparently oblivious to the chaos they create around them!

Posted by: dickthickett | October 23, 2008 6:07 AM | Report abuse

Nobody seems to have addressed the issue of mass-transit. If we had more of it and it got people where they wanted to go without several transfers and dealing with seat hogs, etc. There might not be as many left laniacs out there. To all the light flashers on the GW PKWY, if the car in front of me would move, I'd get out of your way, but I'm boxed in here, so stop flashing me!

Posted by: mfromalexva | October 23, 2008 7:03 AM | Report abuse

The problem with left lane hoggers is: have you ever tried to get out of the left lane? So many places dump you into the left lane completely against your will and then you are at the mercy of those who have staked their claim by virtue of having entered the Beltway 2 exits before you. Put on your signal? Hah, a sign of weakness! Even if the car to your right is completely behind your rear bumper, they will undoubtably speed up so as not to end up behind you. If you slow down to move behind this paranoid and agressive driver to your right, then you are really ticking off the people behind you, who will speed up and try to pass you on the right, without allowing you to slow down and move over, And so on, and so on.

Posted by: newhdl | October 23, 2008 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Please allow me to address the issue of left lane driving from a law enforcement prospect. As a nearly 30 LE professional in Northern Va. I've seen plenty of cases involving road rage on our streets. I've even seen or read of cases where the road rage started as a result of someone hogging the left lane and the person trying to pass them perceiving this as an insult on their manhood. We've seen cases where the drivers have pulled up next to the left lane hogs and fired guns at the offender. I know of a least one homicide from this type of road rage. I have a brother in another state who felt driving in the left lane at the speed limit on interstates was his God given right. When I told him of a shooting we had as I described above he decided that putting his family in jeopardy by hogging the left lane was not such a good idea after all. I'm obviously not defending the idiots who resort to violence over this but I'd also like to see left lane hogs minimize this from ever happening by getting the hell out of the left lane when possible.

Posted by: ManassasReader | October 23, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

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