Driving on the interstate

Chris Jones
ECB Publishing, Inc.

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who drive slow in the left lane and those that do not. If you have driven on the interstate lately, hopefully you've been the latter of these two types of people. Undoubtedly though, you've witnessed the other type, and quite possibly have even cursed them, trying to suppress your road rage. This article will attempt to provide several basic recommendations for driving on the interstate that will: 1. make the roads safer 2. decrease travel times, and 3. keep you from being the target of another's road rage.

The left lane is for passing
The left lane of the interstate is for faster traveling vehicles to pass slower traveling vehicles. If you are in the left lane and cars are passing you on the right side, you're doing it wrong. If there is a car behind you and nobody in front of you or in the next lane over, you need to use your blinker and move over so that car can pass. Nothing hinders the smooth flow of traffic more than slow vehicles in the left lane. The other vehicles will either stack up behind that car and create a line of irritated drivers or they will attempt a middle or right lane pass and zoom up and around the slow-poke, sometimes making it around and sometimes being stuck and having to fall back in line. If making life easier on your fellow drivers is not reason enough for you to head this advice, be warned that in many states “slow-poke laws” are now in place that could land you a fine for the frowned-upon practice.

Cruise control is your friend
Cruise control is standard on new vehicles and has been for some time. It allows you to set a specific speed for your vehicle, and it accelerates or decelerates automatically, depending on the terrain, to maintain that speed. It is very irritating to drivers who try to maintain consistent speeds on the interstate  when a vehicle is constantly passing them and then slowing down and falling behind, only to accelerate and pass them again, in a mind-numbing game of back and forth. Not only is this practice extremely annoying to more disciplined drivers, but avoiding it by using cruise control actually increases your gas mileage by avoiding unnecessary RPM increases, which burn fuel faster. Using cruise control for a specific moderate speed will also decrease your chances at an unexpected speeding ticket, which might result from accidental speed increases due to absent-minded driving.

Turn off your flashers
Heavy rain leads to reduced visibility. You turn your wipers on high and peer through the windshield, straining your eyes to spot the tail lights in front of you. Some drivers turn on their emergency flashers in an attempt to make themselves more visible. While the bright flashing lights do make a vehicle stand out more in these situations, it also makes the environment more dangerous for everyone else. First, the bright flashes reflect off of every drop of rain streaming down the windshield of other drivers. The glare and reflected light makes it harder to see anything else other than those flashers. Second, the flashers use the same bulb as the brake lights. So when your flashers are constantly flickering on and off, it decreases the chance that the vehicle behind you will see and process when you actually break. This increases the possibility of a rear-end collision. While the practice of turning on flashers in heavy rain is certainly done with the best intentions, it makes the interstate more dangerous. When it’s raining cats and dogs, turn on your lights, not your flashers.

Slow down or move over (it’s the law)
Florida law requires you to move over a lane, when you can safely do so, for stopped law enforcement, emergency, sanitation, utility service vehicles and tow trucks or wreckers. If you can’t move over, or when on a two-lane road, slow to a speed that is 20 mph less than the posted speed limit., and slow down to 5 mph when the posted speed limit is 20 mph or less. If you fail to do this, you put yourself and others at risk. Violating the law will result in a fine, additional fees, and points on your driving record.

Give the big boys some space
Semi-trucks, 18-wheelers, tractor-trailers; no matter what you call them, they need some special consideration. Large trucks do everything slower than their four-wheeled counterparts. They accelerate slower, change lanes slower, and most importantly, they break slower. Make sure you give semi-trucks plenty of space before you switch lanes to get in front of them. If you see a semi-truck in the left lane with its right blinker on, it means the truck is trying to get over and out of the passing lane. The correct thing for you to do is slow down and let it over. The most inconsiderate thing you can do is impatiently swerve into the right lane and try to race around it before it reaches the next vehicle in the right lane. Doing so will leave that truck stuck in the left lane, slowing down traffic in general. The best approach for an observant driver is to be aware of semi-trucks and anticipate their actions on the interstate.

Stop the stop-merge
When entering the interstate using a merge lane, do not stop or proceed slowly and then pull out into fast-moving traffic. The whole purpose of the merge lane is to give vehicles entering a highway an opportunity to speed up to match the flow of traffic, then safely merge with it. If you stop or slow to a crawl, then pull into traffic that’s going 20, 30 even 40 miles-per-hour faster than you, you are asking to be rear-ended. Not only do you create a dangerous situation for yourself, you force other drivers behind you to attempt the same high-speed merge from a standing start. On the same token, vehicles already on the interstate should move over, if they can, to make that vehicles merging easier.