But first, let’s take a fast look at the basics because I know most of us never see a freeway that’s not a packed with slow-moving traffic in every lane.
The Right Lane
According to the Uniform Vehicle Code, the right-most lane, a.k.a. slow lane is primarily for vehicles that have just entered the freeway or intend to leave it at the next exit. It has a second purpose, however, and that is to house vehicles that aren’t traveling with the flow of other vehicles. We’ll return to that in a second.
The slow lane in hilly terrain is also known as the climbing lane. The layout is such that two lanes head upwards on a freeway and one head downward. Heavy vehicles are more likely to use the climbing lane.
The Left Lane
The U.V.C also defines the use of the left-most lane, a.k.a. fast lane. The right lane is also known as the passing lane, because vehicles in this lane are, in theory, overtaking slower traffic in lanes to the right.
It’s worth noting that Colorado Police are particularly well known for handing out tickets for going slow in the fast lane. The high altitude and pitch of the climb on certain roads make it more likely for cars to travel slowly in the fast lane, which is truly a hazard.
The Middle Lane
The middle lane, or lanes, is for “through traffic.” These vehicles should be traveling at or near the speed limit. Since you’re supposed to be using the left lane for passing, it’s illegal in most states to travel in the left with the flow of traffic and not yield if someone is overtaking you.
Legitimate Reason to Drive Slow in the Slow Lane
Many states have a lower posted speed limit for Tractor Trailers or other vehicles with more than two axles. Also, most states have special speed restrictions for oversized loads. Some vehicles may be overloaded or awkwardly loaded which causes them to drive slower for safety. Also, temporary car trouble could be a legitimate reason to drive slower until a good exit can be found.
Being too old, too impaired or too blind to safely drive at freeway speeds is not a legitimate reason to camp out in the slow lane. If you don’t feel able to safely operate your vehicle at freeway speed, please avoid using freeways.
Differential Rate of Speed
The issue isn’t really about top speed. In theory, we’re all traveling the speed limit (wink) and if we’re not the police take care of it.
No, the issue is the difference in speed between one vehicle and another. It’s the rate at which you overtake the other vehicles on the road, which means acceleration and deceleration. If someone enters your lane going 20 MPH slower than you, you’d better have good brakes. The opposite issue is the source of most frustration.
When you finally break free of that slow car in the fast lane you want to get back to your cruising speed which is all about engine acceleration. It may seem like a little thing but it might just save your life. Cars which fail to accelerate at intersections or up hills or ramps can cause accidents. You need to be able to pick up speed when necessary.
Car acceleration performance is measured by the time it takes to go from 0 to 60 mph. It is not always possible to tell this just by looking at a car. The Chevrolet Camaro Iron Duke may have been marketed as a sports car but it still has an embarrassingly low acceleration rate of 0 to 60 in 20 seconds.
Did you Know the term ‘Slow’ travel is actually a thing?
But let’s move on from slow lanes to another kind of slowness; slow travel.
Sure we’ve all been on road trips where someone took too many rest breaks. For some people, due to their age, health or some other condition must slow travel–it’s the best they can do. (Though it is not an area the Kicker spends much time on.) For most car enthusiasts the slow traveler is the enemy.
The term, ‘Slow Travel’ was inspired by the term ‘Slow Food’ which came about in the 1980s. Slow food was a counter-movement against the sudden domination of unhealthy & over processed ‘Fast Food.’ It was based in the notion that it’s okay to have a different priority for your food than mere speed–things like taste and atmosphere. If some people preferred a ‘Slow Food’ experience maybe it some folks would also enjoy a slower pace of travel.
If freeways make you feel stressed, you might be one of the folks who understand that life is a journey, not a destination.
For the traveler who wishes to take the slow routes across America, possible suggestions include the Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco or Route 6 from Provincetown, Mass. to Bishop, California.
Likely as not, it will go up the mountains and through the valleys. Ironically, traveling slowly is what the car commercials are all about. These routes are slower, which means more stops. More stops mean more meals and more nights in a hotel. It’s not cheaper, but it is more picturesque and you may actually get to meet some nice people you’d normally zoom past.