Why people speed in passing lanes – Hanlon’s Law

OPINION: You’re stuck behind a car. You get to the passing lane. Then they speed up. Why?

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.stuff.co.nz

I hadn’t heard of Hanlon’s Law before, but it certainly gels with what I see and what we all experience regularly. We see a certain behavior on the road and interpret it, frequently incorrectly.

So, to quote this excellent article from Stuff, “that in the absence of proper understanding, human frailty often appears indistinguishable from malice.”

When we drive, we are in a cocoon, our own little world where our key focus is our own journey to our own destination. That is important to us. We have a set of behaviors that we believe are appropriate and when people behave differently, particularly if you are in peak congestion, or perhaps traveling with time constraints, to get to  meeting, to catch a plane, or perhaps to get to the hospital to deliver a baby, or to go to someone’s aid who has just had an accident.

We have no idea what is going on inside the head of our fellow motorists or what their purpose is for being on the road, nor their behavior.

I have frequently been baffled why people don’t drive in the same rational way that I do.

For example, I will drive on the highway using cruise control at 100kmph. I overtake a slower car at a passing lane and move back into the left lane (we drive on the left in New Zealand). A little farther up the road (and I haven’t touched the cruise control and am still doing 100kmph) I arrive at another passing lane and the same person overtakes me doing about 120kph.

Just a mere km or two and I arrive at a couple of corners, and get stuck behind, yep, you got it, that same car which is now doing 90kmph.

Don’t get me started on merge lanes. I’ll leave that to another day and just be happy that Tom Vanderbilt in his excellent book TRAFFIC: Why We Drive The Way We Do,  tells me that the same things happen around the world.

Some people merge early and sit in an orderly queue whilst others race up the now empty merge lane and when they get to the merge point, have to battle drivers who move across to stop them passing (frequently before the actual merge point), because they feel aggrieved that they queued nicely while the other guy pushed past.

The people who feel they are driving in an orderly manner, vacating the merge lane early feel very strongly about the people who take advantage of their good manners; and this frequently results in road rage, tailgating and other reactions.

In fact both parties (by New Zealand law, where you can legally stay in the ‘fast lane’ of the motorway and drive below the legal speed, whilst people who want to go faster can legally undertake) are obeying the law. In my humble opinion, if people merged correctly, like a zip, at the same speed as the people in the lane they are merging into, traffic would flow more smoothly and congestion would be slightly eased.

The problem occurs because the now empty lane which almost everyone has vacated is moving at three times the speed at which the polite motorists are. When they merge with the slower traffic who close the gap, it causes a concertina effect where a whole line of vehicles slows down to let them in and then slowly speeds up until the next merge lane.

So having identified that we still need more driver education, I’d also like to remind us all (including myself) that you do not know what is going on in the car next to you. They may be rushing off to a family emergency, it may be a learner driver, she may have just had a quarrel, they might be foreign tourists coming to grips with driving on the other side of the road. They might be happy, sad, sick, tired, under the influence of something, or they might just be bad drivers.

Chances are though, that whilst you are taking their behavior personally and want to let them know that you are not impressed, they probably don’t even know you exist. They are not trying to get one up on you, not trying to annoy you, they are just going about their own way and would probably be totally astonished that you have an issue with their driving. I think Hanlon is mostly right.

See on Scoop.itLocation Is Everywhere


About Luigi Cappel

Writer for hire, marketing consultant specialising in Location Based Services. Futurist and Public Speaker Auckland, New Zealand
This entry was posted in Motoring, traffic congestion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why people speed in passing lanes – Hanlon’s Law

  1. Jaie Hart says:

    Another good argument for many things but the first thing that comes to mind is when behind the wheel never ever take someone else’s behavior personally. It’s really not about you.:) Thanks for this! 🙂


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