The Left Lane is MINE

Another quick note about driving in Chile…

Just back from a wonderful long weekend on the coast…along with thousands of other Santiaguinos who took advantage of a gorgeous 5-day mini-vacation. Valparaíso has spectacular fireworks displays on New Years Eve, as do the other cities along the coast, so the exodus on the 31st produced tacos (traffic jams) of up to 5 hours for what would normally be a trip of little over an hour and a half.

The mass return took place yesterday, January 4. We usually avoid the Sunday afternoon traffic by heading back first thing on Monday morning, but we needed to be in Santiago early this morning, so we left the coast at 11:15 last night. Traffic was still heavy, but flowed easily–for the most part–which brings me to my point.

Somehow it seems that driving schools do not teach the “left lane is for passing” rule, and even though the national news sees fit to broadcast reminders at the start of each vacation season, people just don’t seem to get it… everyone packs up the car, heads for the highway, and the battle for the left lane is on.

The highway speed limit is 120 km (about 75 mi) per hour, which pretty much means the traffic will range from 80 to 140 km (50-90 mi).  True, the right lane has the usual slow-crawling traffic: big trucks, tractors, grandpas, and ancient vans packed to the hilt with every member of the family in living memory. Then there are those who stick to the “100 km/hr saves gas” philosophy. That leaves the rest of us… those who want to move along at 120 (ok, 125)… and those who seem to think they are on the Audobahn and who barely avoid clipping fenders and rear view mirrors as they weave streaks through the two lanes.

The problem is the prevailing I-can-do-whatever-I-want-and-the-rest-is-your-problem attitude that leads many drivers (and yes, men are worse than women on this count) to hang in the left lane and refuse to move over to let faster-moving traffic zip along. What’s so hard about sliding over, letting the faster traffic whiz through, and then slipping back into the left lane to buzz pass the slower traffic again?

Here’s a typical scene.  Driver A moves into the passing lane and gets comfortable at say 110. Driver B comes up behind at 125 and A stays put. B flashes his/her lights, but A seems to have forgotten the existence of the rear-view mirror. Tension rises; no one budges. B is on A’s tail, but now A is getting stubborn (“I have as much right to this road as THAT jerk”) and even slows down–just a bit–to make the point. The gauntlet has been tossed. Driver B accepts the duel and speeds up onto A’s bumper, squeezes between cars in the right lane, speeds up and swerves back into the left lane cutting off Driver A, and causing everyone else to slam on brakes and blow horns…

What really amazes me, however, is not how often this happens, but just how seldom this results in major accidents!

For more on driving in Chile see “Unwritten Driving Laws”  and “Driving Tips, Chilean style

3 responses to “The Left Lane is MINE

  1. I have semi-terrible road rage. And this is precisely why I could never cut it driving in Chile…my poor blood pressure!:/

  2. La Gringa/Margaret

    The weird thing is that Chileans are usually pretty easy going, but I have seen so many undergo a complete personality overhaul when they get behind the wheel!
    My approach is to drive very defensively and try not to let someone else’s stupidity lead to something even dumber of my own! (often easier said than done!)

  3. Pingback: Driving Tips, Chilean Style (Manejar, a la chilena) « Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

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