Passing Middle Lane Drivers
On the open highway (typically on interstates or major highways with two or more lanes in each direction, in sparse traffic, usually in rural areas), there are few occasions to pass a vehicle on the right. Most vehicles travel at higher speeds than my truck and I stay in the right lane to allow their drivers to pass me on the left. Among the exceptions are certain bad weather and/or bad road situations (see the Passing You in Bad Weather and/or Bad Road Conditions tip).
On multi-lane highways and city freeways, I do pass a slower driver on the right sometimes, though I prefer not to try to pass in the right lane because of the possibility of getting caught in the churn (congestion and maneuvering) of other vehicles exiting and entering the highway.
However, there are some drivers who travel in the middle lane on a three-lane city freeway at appreciably less (by 5 miles per hour or more) than the prevailing safe and lawful flow speed. When they remain in that lane rather than moving to the right, they may impede the flow, bunching up traffic (compressing vehicles more tightly together) behind them and to their left and right. (Similar to water flowing against and around a boulder in the middle of a stream.) Traffic flows more efficiently past a slow driver in the right lane. (Similar to water in a stream flowing past a boulder resting against one of the streambed sides.)
Bunching around a slower vehicle in the middle lane happens in medium to heavy traffic traveling at highway or near-highway speeds. Faster vehicles in the middle have to merge with other vehicles already in the left lane or right lane to get by. Such lane changes are more difficult for trucks because of their size and acceleration limitations. Truck drivers may get trapped behind the middle lane vehicle until a driver behind them slows down to let them merge or they eventually find an opening. Drivers in intense traffic areas such as Los Angeles and New York City are less inclined to help, and I’ve often had 10 or more personal vehicles pass by in spite of my turn signal before a driver has let me over. Lane changes in morning and evening rush hours are especially difficult.
I may move to the left lane when there is an opening, however I will more likely change to the right lane. This is due to my truck’s speed limitation and trucks often being prohibited from traveling in the left lane on city freeways in the absence of left exits. Also, once in the left lane, it may be difficult to move back to the middle or right lane where my truck generally belongs.
Before initiating a pass in the right lane, I make sure the slow vehicle in the middle lane has not signaled an intention to move to the right. Then I check for congestion in front of me. I may be temporarily blocked by vehicles in the right lane still passing the slow vehicle in the middle lane. Ideally they will clear the slow vehicle in the middle lane briskly so I can also pull by, then get well outside the lead threshold (see the Passing You Basics tip). Another obstacle can arise from drivers in the right lane slowing down to enter an exit ramp and/or getting up to speed as they emerge from an entry ramp. When traffic is backed up in the right lane, I have to watch for drivers switching into the middle lane in front of me to gain a speed advantage. Also I have to watch for the right lane becoming an exit-only lane. All these factors can cause me to delay or cancel the pass and thus detract from my progress and productivity.
Once I have moved right and begun pulling past the vehicle in the middle lane, I watch that its driver seems to be aware of my truck, and does not initiate a surprise change to the right lane. This is an application of one of the basic rules for drivers to “make sure other drivers see you.”
There are middle lane drivers who simply prefer to stay out of the right lane churn. Some drive at the prevailing flow speed and others drive more slowly. I’ve observed some of the latter to be seniors who probably do not feel comfortable driving at the flow speed and/or contending with the right lane churn. There will likely be more of these seniors in the coming years due to the large aging component of our population. Other slow drivers may just be distracted or day dreaming. Many slow drivers in the middle lane seem unaware of and/or unconcerned about the congestion they cause.
Once proven safe and reliable, fully automated personal vehicles could be a significant help to seniors and other more challenged drivers. Automated trucks capable of safely navigating urban freeways and highways should follow.
Other vehicles that may travel more slowly in the middle lane are the tiny super fuel-efficient cars. Their performance at higher freeway speeds may be limited. In bad weather and/or bad road conditions, drivers of these and certain other less stable vehicles may travel more slowly than flow speed. Fortunately most drivers of impaired vehicles such as those with a temporary flat replacement tire stay in the right lane.
Light traffic is not so susceptible to bunching—there is enough open space between vehicles that drivers can more easily navigate around a vehicle in the middle lane. Middle lane driving in slow-and-go or stop-and-go traffic is not a problem.
Other Pass on the Right Situations
There are other situations in which I may pass vehicles on the right. Occasionally right lane traffic flows faster than traffic in left lanes. When in the right lane in those situations, I watch for vehicles in a slower left lane cutting over in front of my truck. Drivers may switch to take an upcoming exit or may simply be trying to gain a speed advantage in the right lane. There are interchanges in which a multi-lane freeway or highway separates into two or more single- or multi-lane highways leading in different directions to different destinations. I could be driving in a lane splitting off to the right whose traffic is traveling faster than traffic splitting to the left. Again I have to be watchful for a left lane driver making a late move to the right in front of my truck.
I hope you’ll stay aware of traffic around you on multi-lane freeways and highways. Especially in the middle or left lane(s), keep up with the traffic flow. If you don’t feel safe at that flow speed, drive in the right lane. Whether I am passing you on your left or your right, you should not behave “passively.” Stay aware of my truck and alert to contingencies such as debris or splash back thrown from the tractor and trailer wheels, tire blowouts or other traffic emergencies we may encounter. Plan your maneuvers around my truck. For example, if you need to move into the right or left lane for an exit and my truck is alongside you in that lane, consider letting it by and moving behind it rather than accelerating and cutting in front of it.
On multi-lane highways and city freeways, truck drivers generally prefer passing on the left.
When you drive in the middle lane(s) of multi-lane freeways and highways, keep up with traffic flow.
If you need to move into the right or left lane for an exit and a truck is alongside you in that lane, consider letting it by and moving behind it rather than accelerating and cutting in front of it.