Why can’t slow drivers keep to the right?

Let me paint the picture: You are driving on a highway with one lane going in each direction.

No passing is allowed due to the turns and hills on the roadway – think of the Sea to Sky highway, or Highways 3 and 5 to BC’s Interior. The speed limit is 80 km/hr, or 60 km/hr, or maybe even 100 km/hr. The actual speed isn’t the issue.

You are behind another driver who is travelling well below the posted limit for some unknown reason. Maybe the driver is not familiar with the road, or is a new driver, or has poor eyesight. Again, the reason for the slow driving isn’t the issue.

The road ahead of you opens up with a passing lane, with clearly marked signs that state ‘slower traffic keep right’, followed by another sign that states ‘Stay right except to pass’.

Your foot itches on the accelerator as you wait for the driver in front of you to pull to the right and allow you to pass. A quick peek in your rearview mirror shows a long line of cars behind you waiting for the same opportunity.

Much to your dismay, the driver in front of you finds a sudden burst of confidence at the open road and floors it. I mean, really floors it and races forward in the left lane. To try to pass the car now would mean passing on the right (not a good idea) and driving like an idiot to pass him.

Then, as your opportunity to pass dwindles with the end of the passing lane in sight, you are again stuck behind the slowpoke as he drastically drops his speed when the road closes in again.

I’m not sure about you, but this has happened to our family on several occasions. Not only is such driving behaviour dangerous, it frustrates other drivers. There are various traffic laws and statutes that can deal with this, but I’ve been trying to figure out why this happens in the first place.

Maybe if I can understand why I will be better able to educate drivers on safe practices.

Have there been any studies on this? Has anyone made a point of examining the driving mentality of people who do this? Is it something as simple as our competitive nature to not want to give up the lead even if we are poor leaders (wow – that last line works on a whole bunch of different levels, doesn’t it?)

If you have any theories on why people do this and ideas for how we might discourage the practice, I would sure like to hear them. Drop me a line or two to the e-mail address below and we’ll revisit this topic with your input in a future column.

Vancouver police constable Sandra Glendinning blogs at behindtheblueline.ca. Her opinions aren’t necessarily those of the city’s police department or board. You can email Sandra at [email protected]

Photograph by: Ric Ernst