Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Life in the left-lane

It's high time we crack down on self-righteous slowpokes in the passing lane

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The difference between narcissism and self-righteousness can often be confusing. After all, those afflicted with either like to dominate conversations --guilty as charged, officer--and send their food back at restaurants--narcissists because their steak isn't uniformly rare, the self-righteous because they are saving others from undercooked meat.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders might see an immense gulf between the self-centred and the self-important, but when you're sitting next to one in a theatre, the effect is the same; the latter may be pontificating that Bruce Willis should not be allowed to carry live ordinance on a commercial aircraft, while the former claims he could do a better job of one-arming a Heckler & Koch MP5A5 while jumping a snowmobile over open water, but either way, you're still missing the movie.

Thank the Lord, then, that our highways and byways provide much clearer differentiation. The narcissist is, of course, easy to spot. He's -- and it's always a he, almost invariably fuelled by post-pubescent testosterone and the invincibility of youth -- the one treating the entire road as if it were his alone and other motorists mere cones in the autocross of life, weaving in and out of traffic because, well, his need to get wherever the hell he's going overrules absolutely everyone else's desire to simply get to work alive.

The self-righteous -- those left-lane bandits purposely occupying the passing lane to save the world from the horrors of speeding -- are much more difficult to spot. When, as in a recent Washington state study, 43 per cent of your licensed drivers don't know that the left lane is supposed to be reserved for passing, it's easy to mistake the misguidedly moralistic for the merely ignorant.

Nonetheless, the righteously indignant are indeed out there randomly policing our highways as if they are the final arbiters of what constitutes a safe speed limit. While study after study highlights that left-lane banditry is the No. 1 complaint of motorists in North America and a primary cause of road rage, an almost equal amount of data reveals that while most people feel safe at the speed they choose to drive, they fear that the rest of the motoring world is not nearly as competent. Thus, while they are completely comfortable with how much they are exceeding the speed limit, they are equally adamant that no one should be allowed to break the law more than they are.

While it would seem the very height of hubris to decide that whatever speed you happen to find appropriate should be the speed to which all others must be limited to, that would appear to be what every left-lane bandit is theorizing.

This hypocritical moralism seems most common in my home province of Ontario. Countless are the times some preachy Torontonian has explained to me that they were already doing 120 kilometres an hour in the passing lane, invariably ending their discourse with an indignant, "And I don't understand why anybody should be driving any faster than that."

Of course, we Ontarians are hardly the only Canadians with poor driving habits. Quebecers, for instance, are often (justifiably) denigrated for their aggressive driving habits. But, spend some time on La Belle Province's highways and you'll find that express-lane banditry is extremely rare.

Nor are Canadians more afflicted than our cousins to the south. Seemingly everyone stateside hogs the fast lane. But that has more to do with the average American's sense of exceptionalism than personal conceit. The fast lane is obviously the best lane and, since I am indeed American, I deserve to be in the best lane regardless of my speed and the lineup behind me.

Of course, there are laws against this. In Ontario, the traffic code admonishes that all those "travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane." The fine for contravening section 147 is piffling compared to the incredible cost of getting caught speeding--though the OPP did make an exception for Gordon Thompson, who was charged with obstructing traffic and public mischief, the latter a criminal offence, when he famously cruised Highway 401 at 100 km/h for 80 klicks or so back in 2005.

Besides, our constabulary much prefers the simplicity of proving someone exceeded a speed limit by a specific amount rather than the vagueness of determining how much time in the passing lane is too much, which explains why B.C., a province plagued it seems with left-lane bandits, can issue between 200,000 and 400,000 traffic tickets per year, of which only about five are for impeding traffic.

So here's a freebie to all our provincial legislatures. Since both our lawmakers and enforcers prefer numerically-based offences, why not make it an offence to occupy the passing lane if more than three cars have passed you on the right. Simply enforced, easily quantifiable and, thanks to the GoPros in cop cars these days, eminently provable. Perhaps we could finally put those self-righteous slowpokes back in the right lane where they belong.

--Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2014 F6

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