What's so wrong about passing on the right?

While driving on Interstate 95 from Northern Virginia to Southside, my passenger, who is from Germany, was horrified that I’d passed a slow vehicle on the right. He said that it was illegal in Germany and “most everywhere else”. He went on to say that it was very dangerous. I never really gave it any further thought until now. So, why is it so dangerous to pass a vehicle on the right on a multi-lane highway? Are there any studies that show how many people are killed in the USA vs Germany as a result of passing vehicles on the right?


Well, vehicles that are going slower than the rest of the traffic are (supposed to be) in the right hand lane. Also it is the lane that people use to slow up before exiting and speed up when getting on the freeway. And it is illegal in most of north america as well. Texas has posted signs that say “Left Lane for Passing Only”. Unfortunatly that doesn’t stop people from cruising, and holding up traffic, in the left lane.

was to a 4+ highway or did you pass on the shoulder?

Your German friend should drive around L.A. a bit. In California it’s legal for motorcycles to “split lanes” (i.e., ride between lanes of slow-moving traffic). :smiley:

(Man, I miss that!)

err I take my post back. I should learn to read a little more throughly :o

People do not expect to be passed on the right.
Any situation that involves high speeds, hard, massive stationary objects, and the element of surprise is bad.

Your friend is right. 99% of Americans don’t understand how multi-lane divided highways work and that’s a huge part of the traffic problem in a lot of areas.

The right lane is for travelling. The left lane is for passing. You do not travel in the left lane. It’s as simple as that.

I blame poor driver’s education for this, and being a person who thinks there are already way too many laws, this is one I would vote for in a heartbeat: more and more rigorous driver’s ed. And you should probably have to do at least some kind of supplemental training every 5 or 10 years. It would save lives and alleviate traffic if people actually knew how to drive. I had my last driver’s ed class when I was 14 and didn’t get my license until nearly a year and a half later (my 16th birthday)!

People go through red lights too. It’s dangerous since you don’t expect someone to go through the intersection when your light is green.

Passing on the right is, as mentioned, also unexpected. This makes it dangerous.

On some highways (the New Jersey Turnpike comes to mind) signs are posted that say “Keep Right Except to Pass” or words to that effect. More such signs would do a lot to educate the public, but they don’t seem to be very common. Any thoughts on why not?

The problem isn’t the guy passing, it’s the slowpoke in the left lane. If you’re passed by a car on your right and he’s going the speed limit, YOU should get the ticket.

I can understand the German’s worry about this.

In the UK, until recently, it was seriously verboten to pass on the right (of course, in the UK that means ‘the left’, because we drive arseways to you). The advantanges are that you only have to pay serious attention to one side of the car while driving on a multi-lane highway, because you know that anything to your right (left) will be going slower than you. The middle and outer lanes are officially called the ‘passing’ lanes. The idea is that you drive in the ‘slow’ lane unless you have to overtake.

In practical terms, however, it doesn’t work very well. People tend to hug the middle lane, because they don’t want to get stuck in the slow lane, due to the density of traffic in the middle lane, due to… (repeat from the beginning of this sentence ad infinitum). You therefore get very slow vehicles in the slow lane, a huge clog of traffic in the middle lane, and people breaking the speed limit in the fast lane. As a consequence the cops in the UK have relaxed about it somewhat, and I’ve heard that if the centre lane traffic is going slower than the speed limit, it’s now OK to pass on the ‘inside’.

The rules are similar in Ireland, but they’re never enforced. People therefore have less lane discipline here too, but as a consequence it works quite well - you can duck and dive in and out of traffic to get through.

Bear in mind, also, that a lot of the Autobahns have very liberal speed limits. To fuck with the lane discipline would invite 200kph cars to come up suddenly behind 100kph cars, with at least a bit of panicked braking, if not carnage.

That’s a problem here too. People in Phoenix are pretty much going to go 85 on the freeway no matter what the speed limit is. Even the cops do it. Hell, I’ve been passed by cops without their lights on while doing 85. When you come over a hill or around a curve and suddenly end up behind some wingnut doing 50 or 60 it can be quite a mess.

Your friend is wrong. Passing on the right is permitted in most, if not all, states, if there are clearly defined lanes. For example, the Va. statute:

I remember a few years ago CNN doing a story about an old driver who drove fifty-five mph in the left lane all the time. Since at the time this was the speed limit, he was not breaking the law, and he said he did it so he could avoid slow trucks. This is why you have to pass on the right in this country. People do it less since the speed limit was raised, but you still come across people from the anti-destination league driving below the speed limit in the left lane. If you never passed on the right you’d never get anywhere.

To be honest, I don’t think that the “people don’t expect to be passed on the right” argument holds water.

If you’re driving slow in the left lane, so that people are passing you on the right, then you’re obviously not paying enough attention to what’s going on in your own lane, so why would someone a whole lane over faze you? I’ve ridden with drivers like this. Head in the clouds, no idea what’s going on around them, two feet off the bumper in front of them, going 70+. Someone passing on the right wouldn’t even register.

And if, for whatever reason, you are aware of your surroundings, but are still going slow in the left lane, people passing on the right is so common, it’s hardly any more scare-worthy than a merge or an interchange.

Well, he was breaking the law, regardless of his speed, as the left lane is for passing only. Va statute:

That statute requires a signal to the dumb cluck who is driving slower than traffic in the left lane, but in many cases there will be signs that say that the left lane is for passing only.

Actually, I think it’s exactly where the issue lies. The OP friend is german. It is not common to be passed on the right over here (nor in Germany, nor in France). People really don’t expect other drivers to do so. You can’t just dismiss it as “not being aware of one’s surrounding”, because by the same reasonning you could think it’s no big deal to ignore the red lights, either. After all, other drivers could be “aware of their surroundings” and assume there’s a significant likehood that red lights will be ignored.
The friend of the OP is horrified plainly because most other drivers in his place of origin would be horrified (and most likely extremely pissed off) too by a behavior indeed unexpected, and as a consequence really dangerous in the place where he’s coming from. Even if it’s not actually as dangerous as he thinks, the simple fact that most drivers in this country won’t feel the slightest bit acceptable to be passed on the right will result in him being horrified. It’s partly based on the practice being actually dangerous, and partly based on his perception of what his a sensible way of driving.
I assume that if you were visiting a country where some road regulation you’re accustomed to (like stoping at the red lights in my example) is ignored by a significant number of drivers, you’d be similarily horrified. And some local could tell you “no big deal. Just pay attention at the crossings”.

This is so strange.
In Australia, it’s just common knowledge. It’s just something you don’t do. Mainly because it’s unexpected, and it may be the law.

I’m guessing that, in the U.S. at least, the feeling that passing on the right is prohibited dates from the days when there were few, if any, roads that had more than one lane for each direction of traffic, so passing on the right meant cutting over to the shoulder.

As barbitu8 noted, in our modern freeway environment, this is generally not illegal. Even if you’re driving right at the speed limit, hindering traffic by driving in the left lane, below the speed of those trying to pass, is illegal. Some folks cannot grasp this.

That link’s evil. Click it and see.