Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Driving 101: Lane discipline

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Continuing our lessons on driving, our next topic of discussion is very near and dear to my heart, mostly because it is one of the things that irritates me the most regardless if I am on two or four wheels. The concept of lane discipline is absolutely lost on most American drivers. The idea is that if we are more disciplined with how we occupy traffic lanes, then there will be freer flow of traffic and everyone will have a much more enjoyable behind the wheel. That is the ideal situation, anyway. Reality feels more like total chaos with most drivers more interested in asserting their dominance as opposed to demonstrating their mastery of driving.

Drivers generally occupy whichever lane has the fewest cars or wherever they happen to feel like being with little consideration for the impact this has on other drivers. However, this often results in traffic being tied up as people rather selfishly, or perhaps just obliviously, occupy the lanes without a thought to traffic patterns at large. Sometimes, this is due to distractions in the car, which is a whole other topic, but sometimes it is due purely to a lack of understanding of how their actions can impact everyone around them.

So, through a series of examples, I hope to highlight several key situations and point out which lane discipline principles to apply to help make traffic flow more smoothly for everyone.

The multi-lane highway

This is one of the most common situations and is often the one that causes the most frustration. Many a time, driving along on a multi-lane highway in the left lane, I have gotten trapped behind a slow driver who has managed to adjust their speed to form a rolling barricade with the vehicle in the adjacent lane and traveling precisely 5 mph under the speed limit. These left lane hogs are a great source of frustration and have led to some of the scarier encounters that I have had with other drivers on the road, especially if you signal for them to move over.

In this situation, a driver who is aware of his surroundings would stay out of the left lane to begin with. This lane should only be used as a passing lane. This means that if you are occupying the lane and are not actively passing someone at the moment, then you should look for an opening in the lane to the right to get out of the way. It does not matter if the vehicle behind you is horrendously exceeding the speed limit, it is not your job to enforce the law and you should be the better driver and move over. If you see a double-flash of high beams behind you, that is also an indicator that there is a vehicle approaching from behind that is likely traveling faster than you and you should make every effort to get out of the way. In fact, just generally avoid entering that left-most lane unless you are passing another vehicle.

Additionally, in multi-lane highway situations, lane discipline also applies to entrance and exit opportunities. If you know your exit is coming up, proper lane discipline dictates that you should make an effort to move towards the outermost lane at least a couple of miles in advance to give yourself plenty of time and space to make your exit and to avoid cutting other drivers off at the last minute. When entering the highway, remember that cars entering the flow of traffic are supposed to yield to vehicles already in that flow and that you should make every effort to match the speed that traffic is flowing at as quickly as possible.

The urban streets

Most people think that if driving along in the city, they can pay no attention to lane discipline. However, this is not the case and often results in the crushing traffic that transforms even the largest metropolis into a glorified parking lot. Instead of a totally undisciplined approach, a few things to keep in mind are that the right-most lane often has cars that will be turning right at intersections or entering driveways so it is ideal to stay out of that lane unless you are going to making a right turn in the near future. The leftmost lane may have vehicles turning left, especially if left turn lanes are not marked out. Attempt to stay out of these lanes if there are enough lanes to avoid them. If not, make every effort to stay in a single lane when possible and avoid trying to jump back and forth between lanes in traffic as this just exacerbates the problem. If making a turn, make an effort to move completely out of the flow of traffic to avoid blocking cars in the flow of traffic.

Driving on urban streets is where there are the most potential obstacles and therefore drivers should be extra attentive and vigilant when it comes to their lane position. Avoid stopping short at stop lights and leaving excessively large gaps between cars. The same applies when traffic is flowing slowly. Avoid leaving excessive gaps between you and the car in front and if you find yourself being tailgated by someone trying to move faster than you, it is safer to move out of the way.

The back roads

Every enthusiast, regardless of being in a car or on two-wheels, enjoys the windy back roads. This is where we perfect our craft of vehicle control and can have a great deal of fun doing it. However, it is these very situations that often present the opportunities to exercise good lane discipline. On a two-lane back road, one should never cross the center line when negotiating corners, especially if visibility is reduced by the presence of obstacles or by the terrain. If you want to take a more relaxed pace, make the extra effort to regularly check your mirrors to ensure you are not holding up traffic. If you find yourself leading a train of several vehicles, find the next possible opportunity to pull over and allow them to pass.

* * * * *

None of the lane discipline principles I have mentioned here are difficult to remember and really rely mostly on common sense and the courtesy to move out of the way for faster flowing traffic. The key thing to remember is to be aware of your surroundings and realize that your actions have the ability to make a positive impact on how traffic flows. Just think a few more steps ahead and be better prepared to do your part to keep traffic moving smoothly.

Tags: automotive, driver education, lane discipline

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