Posts Tagged ‘autobahn’

Reality Check: The “Fast Lane” doesn’t exist

March 30, 2010

The United States does not "legally" have a fast lane, even though drivers may consider the carpool lane or traffic lanes not assigned a truck lane to be a fast lane.I have some bad news for the drivers of the United States, including myself: we don’t have “fast lane”.  The left lane of the freeway or highway is, in the minds of drivers, a fast lane if the state designates the rightmost lane a truck lane with a lower speed limit and, therefore, the “slow lane”.  Some drivers even consider the carpool, or high occupancy vehicle (HOV), lane as a fast lane because they can maintain a faster average speed on that lane, even in traffic.  Unfortunately, despite our relative speed to slower, trailer-pulling semi trucks or sole occupants in their vehicles, the idea of a fast lane is an illusion.  No jurisdiction in the United States assigns the leftmost lane of the highway a higher speed than the highway or city speed designated by the state.  In fact, the rightmost lane is usually assigned a slower speed limit for trucks.

Where does this misconception about the fast lane come from?  We must look to Germany, home of the autobahn.  Speed limits do apply on the autobahn in inclement weather or during construction.  Otherwise, speed limits do not apply in most places.  There are also no restrictions on overtaking.  Drivers must, as much as possible, use the right lane for general driving and use the lane on their left to pass other cars.  This suggests, then, that each lane is progressively faster when viewing highway traffic from the rightmost lane towards the left.  However, this also suggests that Germany, itself, doesn’t assign the leftmost lane as the fast lane.

Should we continue referring to the leftmost lane as the fast lane?  It’s certainly nice to think that, when traffic gets too heavy in the right lanes, we have the leftmost fast lane to retreat to and get away from it all.  However, what we consider faster moving traffic is our quicker relative speed to the slower traffic.  If we want to drive in that proverbial fast lane, we must move to Germany.

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Francis M. Unson

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