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The hazards of left lane driving
A couple weekend’s ago, I sat in on a Saturday traffic school class at Cabrillo College. It was taught by George Klein, a retired California Highway Patrol Officer. Klein not only offered his insights on the laws governing the roadways, he also gave some driving wisdom that made everyone in the class say, “ah-ha.” The one tip that sticks out in my mind the most is left lane driving on the highway. Of course, he touched upon the peeve of people driving slowly in the left lane, also known as the “fast” lane, and spoke about how he used to pull those people over and educate them about how that practice leads to road rage. But he also offered some advice for those of us who drive the left lane routinely, whether we’re passing or not -- beware of the wrong way driver. Now, I tend to be a left lane driver. At night, in particular, I like the left lane because deer hang out on the right side of the road, the left lane provides a landing strip feel to it with the Botts dots on both sides of my car to guide my way, and, at times, there’s more line of sight around the curves. Also, the right lane has a bumpier ride due to heavy big rig and bus traffic. But Klein has me thinking that I need to change my habit. Here’s why: Wrong-way drivers, who are almost always under the influence of alcohol, often drive in the left lane because they think it’s the slow lane, he said. Picture it, you’re driving southbound on Highway 17 through Scotts Valley when you see some headlights up ahead. You’re in the left lane and at first think that the headlights are from an oncoming vehicle in the fast lane of the northbound direction. But that’s not so. The vehicle is in your lane and headed right at you. What do you do? If you’re prepared, meaning you know what’s going on in the right lane, you could position yourself to quickly and safely zip out of the wrong-way driver’s way. If not, you could be involved in a devastating head-on collision at freeway speed. This scenario happened to one of Klein’s former co-workers, with whom he worked during his time spent over-the hill. Klein, who’d seen his share of wrong-way driver-related collisions, spent months nagging his partner about his habit of left lane driving. Well, one night the officer was traveling in the fast lane on a San Jose freeway when headlights appeared in front of him. The officer darted out of the wrong-way driver’s path, but the woman driving the car behind him wasn’t so lucky. She collided with the wrong-way driver and died in the impact. Klein’s advice to motorists: Don’t glue yourself to the fast lane. Use it to pass, which is its intended use. Road hogs who won’t pass rigs Speaking of left lane driving and passing. Why do you suppose drivers are so afraid of passing big rigs on Highway 17? All too often, traffic backs up in the left lane because a timid driver will hover a few feet behind a rig that’s traveling in the right lane. Rule of the week That brings me to this week’s rule. When passing big rigs, bicyclists, deer or any other moving object, do not stare at it as you pass. Drivers have a tendency to steer toward the object they are looking at. Keep your eyes on the road ahead, occasionally glance at the thing you are cautiously passing and be ready to react in case it winds up in your lane.