Surge Pricing and Slow Left Lane Drivers

My last post discussed surge pricing (including pricing during emergencies) and how people
often do not appreciate the benefits that such pricing provides. Part of what is going on with
people’s opposition to surge pricing is that they think of it in terms of a social norm – do not take advantage of people who are in difficult circumstances. People focus on this social norm and fail to understand or attend to the long term benefits such pricing provides. The way to address this is to educate people about these benefits, but unfortunately the state often exacerbates the problem by prohibiting such pricing.

There is another problem that I think involves similar issues: driving slowly in the left lane.
Such driving is not merely inconsiderate, it is also dangerous. Why? The left lane allows people who want to pass other cars an avenue to do so. If that lane is blocked, then these people – who want to drive faster – become all bunched up behind the slow driver in the left lane. There is no way for them to pass, since the cars in the other lanes are usually driving more slowly than these cars wish to travel (as is their “right” in the non-left lane). Thus, slow drivers in the left lane cause tailgating, which is dangerous. By contrast, when people can use the left lane to pass, there is no bunching since people who want to drive faster can do so.

What is the slow driver in the left lane thinking? Often they are focused on something else –
talking on their cell phone or to another passenger. When they do avert to the people behind
them, they often feel in the right. Their view is that they are already driving the speed limit or
faster, and no one has a right to drive faster than that. (How do I know this? I have spoken to
many people about the issue.)

Whatever you think of their argument – and I don’t think much of it – the result of their action is not safety but the opposite, caused by the bunching behind them in the left land.

How is this issue like surge pricing? First, people who drive slowly in the left lane are often not aware of the benefits that leaving that lane open produces, just as opponents of surge pricing are not aware of the benefits of that practice. Second, the slow left lane drivers, who believe that no one has a right to drive faster than the speed limit, use a “moral” belief to justify their action just as opponents of surge pricing employ a social norm to justify their actions.

Finally, the state often also fails in its responsibilities to stop slow drivers. While many state
laws seem to say that the left lane is for passing, it seems to be rarely emphasized – either in
drivers education materials (at least the ones I have seen) or by police (who do not seem to ticket such drivers).

Interestingly, Vox has the right view about both positions. Not only is it in favor of surge pricing (as I noted in my last post), it also advocates using the left lane only for passing.

Reader Discussion

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on January 06, 2015 at 13:08:33 pm

C'mon man!!!! Where is an old grandmother to drive if we kick her out of the left lane?

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Image of gabe
on January 06, 2015 at 14:36:43 pm

States/cops don't do anything about left lane hogs because there's no revenue in it. And it goes against the perception that "speed" is all things evil. By opening up the lane might allow somebody to go a REASONABLE speed (whether or not that speed corresponds to the arbitrary number on the white sign), and that absolutely cannot be allowed to happen. The public has been brainwashed since the 70's that Speed Kills and that's what funds so many states/cities/counties budgets.

On top of that, cops have also been brainwashed and trained in the same thing. Cops don't want to have to pay attention and actually observe traffic, watching for people who are causing problems like that. Instead, what would happen is they would go after and ticket the guy trying to get around the slowpoke. He'd get slammed for anything they could come up with -- speeding, reckless driving, aggressive driving, etc. Tons of fines, tons of points, increased insurance rates, etc. And for what? Getting around somebody who refuses to move over.

I could go on and on...

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Image of RobG
on January 06, 2015 at 15:16:18 pm

What if your exit is on the left?

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Image of LesLein
on January 06, 2015 at 15:42:45 pm

You must live in Seattle!
Everything here is "left-ist" - even some of the exits!

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Image of gabe
on January 06, 2015 at 20:17:53 pm

And then again there is this. I am not quite certain that knowledge of the benefits of surge pricing will offset the $900 Uber bill - now that I think of it, that is an apt descriptor for the bill -Pricing Uber alles!!!!

Just saying, guys!


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Image of gabe
on January 09, 2015 at 16:55:17 pm

I had never considered this. Four lines of questions occur to me:

1. Do (federal?) driving laws prohibit driving the speed limit in the left lane? The act of a police officer giving someone a ticket for failing to facilitate speeding would certainly be interesting.

2. What test should the police apply to know if someone had violated the law? Could you evade a ticket merely by driving slightly faster than the cars in the other lanes?

Or would the rear-most car have presumptive power to dictate the prevailing speed in the lane?

Or would there be a "time in the paint" rule, such as "Every X seconds you must pull out of the left lane..."? But then, what if you encountered a traffic jam? In bumper-to-bumper traffic, no one could count on finding a regular opportunity to merge right, so EVERYONE would avoid the left lane entirely -- thereby exacerbating traffic jams.

(When encountering signs asking traffic to merge into fewer lanes, some drivers will merge immediately -- whether out of a sense of duty, or to avoid being stuck in a closed lane when other drivers refuse to let you merge. But, as noted above, this style of driving exacerbates traffic congestion. Some states have public relations campaigns to <a href="zipper merge">discourage this kind of prompt behavior.)

4. Since when do you object to frustrating the plans of those on the left?

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Image of nobody.really
on January 09, 2015 at 17:02:46 pm

Oops, hit the Post Comment button too soon.

3. How would the cops enforce a rule against driving too slowly in the left lane? It only becomes a problem when all the lanes are full – which is precisely when the cops can’t reach ANYBODY. If a cop wanted to reach this person, he’d have to turn on his flashers and wait for other drivers to pull over. By the time he got to the front of the lane, the offending driver would have pulled over, too – thereby frustrating any effort to catch him in the act.
Basically, you’d need to enforce this via drone.

Which creates a fine libertarian conundrum: Do you favor giving the police greater authority to monitor us via drones, simply to facilitate speeding in the left lane?

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Image of nobody.really
on January 09, 2015 at 20:37:11 pm

Don't know about all your issues but- typically DOT's post signs indicating that the left lane is for passing with the implication being that YOU PASS and then get BACK in the lane to the right.
So, in a sense the DOT is encouraging (or permitting) speeding albeit for a limited duration.
I suspect the State Dept Motor Vehicle instruction manuals would give a recommendation AND the current funding level of the Sheriff's Dep't would give an indication of when you are safe!

I actually met someone who was giving a ticket for "impeding traffic" for driving too slowly in the left lane. Boy was she pissed!!!!

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Image of gabe
on January 13, 2015 at 13:37:18 pm


Speed does kill. This is not opinion, it is very basic physics and biology. First the physics: F=MA, remember? So the amount of energy released by a car deaccelerating from 80 mph to 0 mph is one third greater than that released by a car deaccelerating from 60 mph to 0 mph. When we are talking about rather massy things like automobiles, this is significant--a fast moving car does lots more damage when it wrecks than does a slower moving car.

Next the biology: humans have an appreciable lapse of time between apprehending a problem and being able to move to do something about it. In the case of cars, this means that drivers of fast moving cars have considerably less margin for error than do drivers of slower moving cars.

Put these two facts together, and the conclusion must be that speed does in fact kill. Moreover, the deduction from physical and biological facts is born out in the real world--there are fewer fatal accudents when traffic moves more slowly.

None of this would be a problem, if I could count on everyone driving the way I do. After all, I am a perfect driver, who never makes even the smallest error of judgment. Sadly, however, I know from observation that there are all sorts of idiots driving on the roads, who do in fact make routine errors of judgment. You do not need laws to protect you from me (because I am perfect), but I am grateful for the laws that protect me from you, because I am reasonably certain that I am the only perfect human being currently in existence.

This does not speak to Michael's point that in the real world slow drivers who squat malignantly in the left lane create a hazard that endangers all of us. That is because it creates situations in which drivers are more likely to commit errors of judgment. That does not effect me, of course, because I am perfect and never make errors of judgment, but simple observation should be sufficient to convince all of us that the same can not be said for the rest of humanity.

On the other hand, the fact that speed does in fact kill does suggest that there are limits to Michael's argument. Beyond a certain point, it is in fact rational, justifiable, and correct to slow traffic down.

All best,

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Image of Kevin R. Hardwick
Kevin R. Hardwick
on January 13, 2015 at 13:38:20 pm

I do not commit typos either. It is good to be perfect! ;)

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Image of Kevin R. Hardwick
Kevin R. Hardwick

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.