Monday, March 15, 2010

How to drive – Lesson 2: Open Lane Takers

Welcome to the second installment of the ‘how to drive’ lessons. In this edition, we’ll cover Open Lane Takers (OLTs) – those who leave their lane in a multi-lane roadway to enter another lane with fewer or no other cars ahead of them. Before we begin, I’d like to clarify a few differences from one OLT to another. There are three major groups to define here, and they are:

  1. Necessary OLTs (NOLTs)
    1. Fast OLTs (NFOLTs)
    2. Slow OLTs  (NSOLTs)
  2. Unnecessary OLTs (UOLTs)
    1. Fast OLTs (UFOLTs)
    2. Slow OLTs  (USOLTs)

*Fast here refers to travelling significantly above the speed limit or overall flow of traffic. Slow refers to travelling significantly below the speed limit or overall flow of traffic.

The first group is really not the cause of the issue we will discuss here, but I make this listing because I want to make clear the distinctions between all types.

Group 1 – NOLTs – are those that change lanes to an open lane because they need to. Most likely, this is because they need to make a turn in a relatively short distance, or their final destination is coming up. These may also actually be subcategorized into Fast and Slow (NFOLT/NSOLT) based on how they drive, but given that they have a need to change lanes, we can group them together.

Group 2 – UOLTs – are those that change lanes to avoid traffic, get ahead of it, or just because they feel like it. In this case, the subdivision of Fast and Slow (UFOLT/USOLT) becomes an important one. Here the individual reason for changing lanes is essentially arbitrary. While there are possible reasons to do so listed above, they are based on preference, not compulsion. That lack of need reduces any traffic impedance to simply an annoyance, which can lead to road rage, which can lead to accidents, injury, and death. I’m stretching a bit, and I don’t mean to say that UOLTs will cause people to die; it’s merely a slight possibility, but a possibility nonetheless. A bigger issue with UOLTs mucking up traffic is that they often don’t know they are causing an issue, either because they are in their own little driving bubble and don’t take notice of other drivers, or worse, they aren’t even paying attention to their own driving adequately.

UFOLTs are the drivers that want to be in the lead, or are just fast in general, and can’t be behind someone else. You know the type; they are those that change lanes constantly and, if they can’t change, they ride up on other’s bumpers. This may sound similar to non-OLT ‘fast drivers’, but be sure there is a difference. These drivers may accelerate quickly or reach a high speed while on the open road, but their driving is generally not erratic or volatile, and they typically go with the flow of traffic. UFOLTs swerve and change lanes frequently, especially in heavier traffic and in doing so can cause others around them to become anxious or even develop or bring about some road rage because of that anxiety. For those being tailgated who have a tendency to get aggressive in their vehicles, they may retaliate against the UFOLT by hitting their brakes or changing lanes to keep the UFOLT from advancing.

While the UFOLT may elicit some aggressive behavior in others, there’s a good chance that they are also easily aggravated. So in turn, we get a snowballing effect, wherein the UFOLT causes another driver to retaliate, to which the raging UFOLT will make a reprisal. This is not good for anyone - not the drivers involved, not the non-involved drivers who just happen to be on the road at the same time, not any pedestrians next to the road, or for property owners who have some investment made at the street. It’s unsafe, careless, and unnecessary. (There is more to be said about road rage in general, but that is for Lesson  #4 – Road Rage). For now, just realize that it’s a bad idea. Even backing down from the more serious repercussions just outlined, there is also the threat of legal fallout if you get pulled over for your reckless driving. (I will discuss traffic laws later in Lesson #3 – Traffic Laws)

On to USOLTs, these are the drivers that may be behind someone, whether or not that person is going above, at, or below the speed limit, and they do not want to be behind them (or anyone). Sometimes these drivers just like to be able to see the road ahead and be better prepared for any potential disruptions to traffic, which is a fair enough reason to do so. These are also the drivers, however, that when approaching a stop light, will change lanes to be at the head of the pack, even if there was only one person ahead of them in their lane to begin with. To be fair, UFOLTs do this as well, but the impact to other drivers is negligible, as we’ll see shortly. In general, these lane changes may or may not pose much of a threat to the normal flow of traffic, but when the driver making the lane change is a USOLT, they end up breaking down the system.

Faster moving traffic (normal flow/speed limit) will build up behind this person, and depending on the density of the flow, may end up being stuck behind them. which is particularly frustrating when the slower speed is far below the posted limit. In the case of the stop light example above, when the USOLT ends up ultimately being passed by the person in the lane position they vacated by changing lanes, it leaves others around wondering why in the heck they even changed. If they moved to get ahead (and then did so) this would be less confusing and thus more acceptable by other drivers. In a similar scenario, a USOLT changing lanes from behind another driver between intersections, but not advancing (consider the USOLT pacing themselves with the person they were behind). This is even worse, since then there are no outlets for faster moving traffic to move ahead. As with UFOLTs, this all can lead to road rage, etc, etc.

If your find yourself being a UOLT, stop and think about what consequences there are for yourself and others before you take an open lane, because it’s not just you out there. Along with not taking an open lane, also move out of the way of faster moving traffic, but also don’t be such an aggressive driver that you cause more problems for others. Is it really going to benefit you more to take an open lane than it will hinder another driver? If not, then don’t do it.

If you find yourself being affected by a UOLT, realize that they might not even know they’re doing it, and unfortunately, you’ll have to just deal with them. If you are a fast driver, but there is a UFOLT coming up behind you, check the following things about the situation:

- Do you need to be in the lane you’re in at the moment?

- Is there nobody in front of you?

- Is there room to pass around you to the side

- Is there traffic in the next lane that is preventing the faster driver from changing lanes already?

If so, consider changing lanes (signaling ahead of time) to allow that person to pass. Also, while they are passing, slow down just a little so as not to pace them and actually allow them to pass. This will help reduce stress and risk of accident as a result of the UFOLT being on the road. If you get stuck behind a USOLT, don’t antagonize them, as it will likely do you no good and will possibly exacerbate whatever stress you or they may already be under.

These suggestions assume practical, safe conditions, of course, but hopefully the spirit of the message is still tangible. Happy driving!

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