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> Via Lane Change
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Via Lane Change

The meaning of a lane change is usually pretty straightforward. On a highway, it can indicate an intent to pass, to not pass, or to exit; on a local road, it can indicate an intent to turn left or right. That's about it. When there's dense traffic, a lane change is useful for obtaining the proper relative speed, or for avoiding a lane that's backed up, but I don't know that such a change communicates anything to anybody, it's just pure action.

There are a few situations, however, in which I see a lane change as having an interesting meaning.

When, for example, I've caught up with someone driving slowly in the left lane, and the adjacent lane is open, here's what I do.

First, I blink my right blinker for a short while. On the surface, this means only that I intend to change lanes to the right, but, in context, it implies that I intend to pass (illegally) on the right. By not rushing to do so, however, I indicate that I'm hesitant, that I'd prefer some other course of events, namely, that the other driver get out of the way. There may also be a bit of reflexivity involved—by blinking my right blinker I suggest that the other blink vis right blinker, i.e., move over.

Second, assuming the nuances of blinking are lost on the other driver, I change lanes. As before, I don't rush to pass, since I'd still prefer that the other driver get out of the left lane.

Finally, if all else fails, I do actually pass on the right. By the way, passing on the right should be performed more slowly than on the left, and more carefully, since the other driver might move over at any instant.

Here's another situation in which a lane change can have an interesting meaning.

You have to imagine that cars A and C are both overtaking car B, but that it's not clear whether C should pass A or instead A should move over in front of C. It's a touchy situation, because the wrong choice will cut off the other car and irritate the other driver. (The similar situation shown in Wait and See is not nearly so touchy.) If I'm playing the role of C, and it looks to me like A should go first, I like to communicate the fact by changing lanes to the right. If, on the other hand, I'm playing the role of A, and I think C should go first, I communicate it by tapping my brakes. And, of course, if in either case I think I should go first, I do, with enough relative speed that there's no doubt about it.

Finally, there's a maneuver that I call the backward, or reverse, pass. It's really more of an amusing idea than something one would ever actually want to do, but I'll mention it here anyway.

I think the canonical moment for a reverse pass is when you're being followed by an oblivious driver (see also Via Change in Speed). What you'd do, then, is blink your left blinker, change lanes, slow down, be passed, blink your right blinker, change lanes back, and speed up … the exact reverse of a normal pass. I imagine a car-animal would recognize this as a joke.

There are legitimate occasions for similar behavior, though. If, for some reason, you're cruising in the left lane, and another car is catching up with you, you should of course move over; and if you move back afterward, that's a kind of reverse pass. Or, sometimes, when I'm cruising in the right lane, and a tractor-trailer, say, is catching up with me, I like to move over to the left, partly to avoid having a massive object swerve around me, and partly to signal that I'm paying attention and don't mind being passed.

* * *

Sometimes you don't even need to really change lanes. When I'm in the role of C, above, I sometimes change lanes only halfway, so that I'm driving down the middle of the road. Then, when car A moves over, I move back over too. I like that method because I imagine it conveys exactly the right meaning. Moving over shows that I'm deferring to A; keeping a foothold (tirehold?) in the left lane shows that I still intend to pass B.


  See Also

  Driving in West Texas
  Via Change in Speed
  Via Distance
  Via Turn Signals

@ October (2000)
o April (2002)