Having completed a full week (five business days) of the longest commute of my life, I am now ready to give you my thoughts on highway driving in general, as well as on I-25 between Denver and Fort Collins specifically. I can't promise my thoughts are in any way fully formed or well-organized, but I definitely have them. I also have prayers, prayers to my guardian angel to keep me safe out there!
First, let me address by far the most frustrating occurrence on any highway in any place: slow drivers in the left lane. I have had to come to terms with this phenomenon and to start to look at root causes and possible solutions. Unfortunately, the root cause is the most dangerous facet of my commute and what makes me take it deathly seriously: lackadaisical driving or lack of awareness of what you are doing when you are on the road.
I was raised to be very aware of what I'm doing on the road, especially when I'm going 60, 70, or 80+ mph on the highway, and in fact for Texan drivers this is the norm. You know where you are and where other drivers are on the road. You see cars approaching in your rearview mirror and, crucially, you move over to let them pass you since their speed exceeds your own. This may be why native Texan drivers are among the most courteous, because we know we're all trying to get somewhere and have different vehicular abilities with which to do so (I'm thinking the old beaten down pickups and tractors common on two-lane highways in Texas and elsewhere).
|good traffic conditions on I-25 N approaching FoCo|
So how does it happen so often that someone can be completely obstructing the flow of traffic in the left lane, actually going slower than folks in the right lane? I think either the person doesn't know--I have, to my shock, met people who have no idea that the left lane is meant to be a passing lane, a huge failure of driving education from whatever state they're from (clearly not Texas)--or has allowed himself to become complacent and lose his awareness as to the fact that he is driving and is not the only one on the road.
I'll be honest, I have actually been guilty of this within the past week: I got in the left lane to pass, the speed of the traffic changed so that both lanes were going slow, and then all of a sudden I found myself getting passed by people in the right lane. At that point, I did notice and move back over to the right lane, but I should have been more proactive about it.
And that gets to another great point about highway driving: anticipation. If you have any significant commute, or indeed are driving at all, you need to learn the skill of anticipation. What this means is being able to predict traffic conditions in front of you as they are developing or emerging. I find myself scoping out brake lights far ahead of me on I-25, examining the type of vehicles ahead of me in each lane and their respective speeds (yes, big trucks typically are slower than the traffic but not always!), noticing cars entering the highway, etc. This skill allows me to remain safe and to stay at a constant speed as much as possible.
Oh, a constant speed. If only. Another key component of my driver's education in Texas was how to use cruise control effectively and safely. Is cruise control a foreign concept in the Denver metro area? Traffic would go so much more smoothly if, cruise control or not, people were able to maintain a constant speed. To do this, drivers would have to move over if their speed was slower than the cruising speed of those behind them, temporarily slowing their own cruising speed, but in turn to pass others going more slowly. They would have to anticipate and to be courteous. I don't know why this is so difficult here, but it is. I can rarely if ever maintain the speed I want, so I usually just settle for going as fast as I can to bring my overall average up.
Maybe I'll do a follow-up post, this is probably enough for now, because I'm still sifting and processing the driving habits here as I experience a hundred miles a day. I will say it gets better the closer I get to Fort Collins; maybe people up there learned the highway driving techniques I learned in Texas, since it is more rural. Snow or other weather is a whole other issue I will have to address.
For now, if you take anything away from this post, let it be this: if you are in the left lane on the highway and people are passing you in the right lane, please move over as soon as is safely possible. Also, it's the law. Drive safely, friends!