Every Driver Should “Drive Right, Pass Left”

(…but those who won’t read this are probably those who most should…)

This past Sunday, I had a brush with death… ok, not really but it could have been.   Headed up the Dallas North Tollway (known here also as the ‘Dallas Autobahn’) traffic was on the heavier side of normal for a Sunday afternoon.  The highway has 3 lanes going each way, and the posted limit is 65.   So I’m shooting up there about 65 in the left lane and notice I’m gaining on the car ahead of me, but a truck behind me is gaining on me.  I need to move right to let the faster truck pass.  Immediately to my right is a car going slightly slower than me, and many cars back, I see a BMW making lane changes like crazy.   I need to speed up a tad (closing the distance between me and the car ahead of me) so that I can move right, in front of that car next to me.   As I’m making the lane change, the BMW has come up the right-most lane and is trying to change lanes into the same middle lane I was moving into.  The BMW was threading the needle between me and the car ahead of him in the right most lane.  I kind of expected that, and wasn’t surprised, but I had to back off the throttle to let him pass ahead of me.  (If you were the driver I’d just gotten in front of in the middle lane, please accept my apologies).

This incident struck me as wrong in so many ways: the driver of a German car on an “autobahn” doesn’t observe one of the main tenets of good driving:  PASS LEFT. But then again, I realize that the vast majority of other drivers do not observe the other side of that equation: SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT.

Here in Texas, its normal to see signs on rural highways that say “SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT“.  That implies that if someone is going faster than you, you should move right.  Someone told me they thought it meant “you are not allowed to go faster in the right lane than drivers in the left lane”.  This is simply not so.  Your High School English teacher would point on that the “object” of that phrase is SLOWER traffic; the phrase has absolutely no bearing on raccoons, UFO’s or faster traffic.

In some counties they have signs instead that say “LEFT LANE FOR PASSING ONLY” which is even more clear:  use the left lane to pass vehicles, and move right as soon as you can.   Most of the time, these signs are ignored, but it appears they are heeded enough that the highway department doesn’t have to resurface the left lanes as often. If every driver observed these rules, traffic would flow better, we would save  fuel, and have less road-rage. As taxpayers, maybe we wouldn’t need to fund as many road-building projects.

In Sunday’s incident, I was abiding by the law.  The driver ahead of me was at least being rude, and the BMW operator was flat wrong in several ways.  Texas statute §545.061 explicitly says: “an operator entering a lane of traffic from a lane to the right shall yield the right-of-way to a vehicle entering the same lane of traffic from a lane to the left.

This is a very important point and it perfectly reinforces the nearly universal “Drive Right, Pass Left” rule.  So, in a perfect world where everyone observed these rules, there are two main take-aways :

  • If you are moving into a lane on your left: a) go behind the car next to you and b) speed up so that cars behind you will not hit you.
  • If you are moving into a lane on your right: a) go in front of the car next to you and b) be prepared to slow down for traffic ahead of you.

Furthermore, consider the following scenarios you may face:

  • If a car is moving into your lane from the left, don’t get all offended and stuff if they go ahead of you.  They’re doing the right thing!
  • If a car behind you is closing the distance, move right, and let them pass.  If they are tailgating or flashing their lights at you, perhaps they believe you are not paying attention.
  • Oh, and don’t get all self-righteous about speed limits.  If the other driver wishes to break the law (or just be rude), that doesn’t give you the right to do the same.  Don’t be a vigilante – let Law Enforcement enforce the law.
  • If a driver is able to safely pass you on the right, take that as a hint you probably should have been in the right lane to begin with.

Sometimes, looking at a problem from a different angle allows one to better understand its nature. Let’s do that now:  Later that same Sunday, and again on Monday evening I observed a truly foolhardy driving behavior – one on the freeway and another on a major surface street.  The drivers wanted to move into a lane on their right. Rather than speeding up and going in front of the traffic next to them, they slowed to a crawl, and one driver actually STOPPED to allow traffic on their right to pass before they moved over. Honestly, how stupid do you have to be?  One must ask “Why were they in the left lane to begin with?”  “Were they about to miss an exit or turn, and chose to endanger themselves and others rather than keep going, safely exit later and double back?”   And it won’t take a rocket-scientist to predict what drivers behind them did:  they changed lanes right, to avoid hitting them, or getting hit themselves, and passed them on the right!  So, these two nitwits flubbed the entire system, created a significant impediment to traffic flow,  probably made people mad, and endangered the safety of many.

We can probably all agree it would be a ‘Death-Wish’ to park in the left lane of a high speed roadway.  So, choosing not to move right when faster vehicles are overtaking could be considered an “Injury-Desire”.


For further understanding, I refer you to several websites:

~ by Patrick Larkin Jr on March 2, 2010.

%d bloggers like this: