MSLAW Blog

Two-Lane Three-Lane Highways

June 2015 |  by Andrej Thomas Starkis

What’s up on the highways? Imagine a typical interstate or other highway with three travel lanes in either direction and light-to-moderate traffic. Most of the vehicles will be in the center lane, with fewer in the left lane and still fewer in the right. In fact, it is not at all uncommon to see vehicles entering the highway from the right and moving immediately to the middle lane—or to see vehicles exiting the highway from the middle lane, even when the right lane has been empty for miles before they turned off.

Not a big problem. Perhaps even a source of amusement—until traffic starts getting heavier. No matter what, the folks in the middle lane aren’t going to move out of that lane, except to go left—slowing down of course—until they can move back to the middle—and speed up again. (If you haven’t noticed that, look again.) Wholly apart from the irritation their driving might cause other, less self-absorbed drivers, what these drivers have accomplished is, in the end, to have slowed themselves and everyone else down by in effect turning the three-lane road into a two-lane road. It’s as though driving in the right lane is beneath the dignity of the royalty in their pricey sedans and SUVs. (I’m convinced many of those vehicles come with a special right-lane-avoidance feature—to go along with their disabled directional signals.)

Guess what? Driving in the middle lane while the right lane is clear is illegal. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 89, Section 4B, says unequivocally, “Upon all ways the driver of a vehicle shall drive in the lane nearest the right side of the way when such lane is available for travel . . . .” (Emphasis added.) Who knew? Common sense, courtesy, and obedience to the law stand little chance against the powerful but subtle psychological need of Americans (drivers especially) to see themselves as middle-of-the-road.

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