Today: Who's the jerk?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2011

Dear Tom and Ray:

I need to know if I'm being a jerk. Every day, I use a left exit ramp on the highway that starts out one lane wide. A second lane begins on the right -- it brings no new traffic; it begins at a barrier. At the end of the ramp, about 100 yards on, the road narrows again to one lane, and there's a "merge" sign. So most drivers stay in the left lane, even after the new right lane starts.

But a few aggressive drivers move into the right lane as soon as it begins, zoom ahead of 20 or 30 cars politely waiting their turn in the left lane and then merge back in at the last moment. OK, this bothers me -- people are cutting in line.

So here is what I do: I move into the new right lane, but I creep along and DO NOT pass anyone. I am effectively preventing people from jumping their place in the line. There is empty pavement ahead of me, but I stay even with the car next to me, in the left lane. In my mind, I am not slowing the merging at the end of the ramp. People who do not try to game the system benefit from my action. People who try to pass 20 or 30 cars using the temporary extra lane are stymied.

Today this really ticked off some guys in a big truck. I realized this when a full 16-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew bounced off the roof of my car with a considerable thump and landed in the road ahead of me. The truck proceeded to cut off someone else on my left in order to move from behind me and pull up on my left. Fortunately, my radio was loud, so I was not able to make out what the truck's passenger was yelling at me. The truck then proceeded to try to merge me into the barrier wall on my right.

So here is the conundrum: Am I a jerk for slowing down the folks taking advantage of the temporary right lane? I know that the people in the truck were jerks, but did I deserve their anger? Am I a jerk, too?

-- Jake

TOM: So, what alerted you to the fact that the guys in the truck were unhappy with you, Jake?

RAY: Clearly, they're jerks. Case closed on them. But I think you might be a jerk, too, Jake. A jerk of a different type. You're what we call a vigilante.

TOM: You've taken the law into your own hands, and have decided to pin a homemade badge on your chest. And since you have no legal authority to do that, you put yourself at risk of flying Mountain Dew bottles.

RAY: While obnoxious, it's also not clear that what these impatient drivers are doing is necessarily illegal. I'm guessing that the reason for the additional (right) lane is to make sure there's plenty of capacity on the ramp so that exiting cars don't back up onto the highway.

TOM: Right. Since it's a left exit, if the ramp filled up with cars, you'd have stopped cars in the left lane of the highway. Not good. So they effectively widened the ramp to two lanes to make sure it could hold plenty of cars.

RAY: So these other drivers are perfectly within their rights to move into a legal right lane and use it. In fact, they're doing what the traffic engineers want them to do, which is spread out the traffic into both lanes.

TOM: Now, if they're exceeding the speed limit or passing on the right where it's not permitted, well, that's an issue for the police, Jake. You might not realize this, but they have those blue and red lights on top of their cruisers specifically to deflect Mountain Dew bottles.

RAY: So as much as it annoys you -- and we're sympathetic; aggressive drivers are annoying -- we suggest that you take a deep breath and relax, and let karma take its course. History has proven that every aggressive driver eventually gets several expensive speeding tickets.

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