Left Lane Hogs

OK, this post might sound a little political. I’ve been reading about the latest rules for B.C. highways, created to crack down on “left-lane hogs” – basically, people who drive slowly in the fast lane. Well, perhaps not slowly, but slower than other drivers would like them to. Often, this term refers to people who might be going just a little over the speed limit (rather than 20-30km over the speed limit). Because the left lane is supposed to be the fast lane, the rationale for the new rules is that driving too slowly in the left lane causes accidents. I don’t know the stats on how many car accidents, injuries, or deaths are directly associated with people driving slowly in the left lane. It’s quite likely, however, that the number of serious injuries or deaths related to this behaviour is considerably lower than the number of serious injuries, deaths, or major health problems related to suicidal behaviour, drug use, mental illness, poverty (such as on the Downtown Eastside), cardiovascular disease, smoking, and so forth. That’s not to say that road rules shouldn’t be given priority; car accidents are common and ruin lives, and measures should be taken to reduce them.

I wonder, however, what all the concern about slow drivers in the fast lane says about our priorities? Even when I’m driving over the speed limit (but at a reasonable and safe speed) in the left lane, I still experience drivers tailgating, swerving to the left and right, frantically looking for an opportunity to get by, honking, and gesturing. It seems like it’s excruciatingly painful for them to drive slower than they want to drive, as if some kind of catastrophic event will occur if they have to wait or are unable to get where they’re going as fast as humanly (or mechanically) possible. I wonder how many of us actually stop, reflect on this, and consider the facts. Is it really imperative that we all drive as quickly as possible? What would happen if we didn’t? Would we die, lose an opportunity to saves someone else’s life, or miss our Nobel Prize ceremony? Why are we so focused on getting from place to place so quickly? Now, we’ve all fallen prey to this ethos. I remember driving home from the university several years ago and being livid about the fact that it took 15 minutes longer than I thought it should to get to Port Moody from Burnaby Mountain. When I ask myself why it was so important to me to shave off that 15 minutes, I honestly can’t come up with a good answer. I believe that it’s not the left lane hogs that are causing the accidents. Instead, it is our unreasoned compulsion to go fast and our difficulty tolerating waiting.

If you fall into this trap (and you’re in good company, as so many of us have), consider using a couple of skills from Dr. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT; Linehan, 2015). One skill is checking the facts. This involves first observing and describing the situation (“The speed limit is 80km, I’m in the left lane, and I’m driving 90km. There is someone in front of me.”). Next, consider what might be upsetting or threatening about this situation (“I want to go faster, and it’s frustrating to have to wait behind the person in front of me.”). What bad consequence are you concerned about? (“I won’t get home in time, I’ll be late for dinner, I’ll be a laughing stock because of how slowly I drove, my wife will kill me”). Consider whether these horrible things are really likely to happen. You might find that a situation you’re treating as life or death is really not that dire. OK, so another skill to try out comes from Dr. Thomas Lynch’s Radically Open DBT. This skill is called self-inquiry. Reflect with curiosity on your approach to driving. Consider the fact that you hate to wait or go slowly, and think, “Hmmm, I wonder what that’s all about.” Just let it percolate in your brain for awhile, and see what comes to mind. Don’t just take your approach to driving, or to live more broadly, as a given. Accept yourself the way you are, but consider the possibility that there is another way to do things. Who knows? If you change your approach, you might make such a difference that some of the time, money, and press devoted to new road rules could go to other, more pressing matters. -Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.