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Columnist John Boyle takes a look at some of the trickier drives in town, and by that, we mean “annoying.” Wochit

Every now and then in my role as the paper’s Answer Man, I truly get stumped by a question.

Life’s great mysteries, I call them. And while they are unanswerable, I still try to unravel these enigmas wrapped in paradoxes and swaddled in mystery.

Here’s one a reader, billing herself as a “Daily 26 traveler,” sent me a few months ago. I confess I hesitated in trying to address it, in part because it is insoluble:

“Hi, slow drivers in the left lane, why won’t you move over? I don’t know if people missed the life lesson on this, but lanes on a highway go (left to right) from fastest (fast-ish) and slower (slow-ish). Everyone should drive in the right lane unless passing. Do they not teach this in driver’s ed anymore? I have a great solution for I-26 gridlock. No trucks permitted in the left lane between mile markers 33 and 40, both east and westbound. All too often the “traffic jam” is simply a slow moving truck in the left lane. Move ’em to the right! Also included in this list would be RV’s, vehicles with trailers, and anyone else with more than two axles. What do we have to do to make this happen? I saw a version of this in another state, “Camp in the Mountains, not the left lane.” Thanks for your time, I am meeting with my homeowners association to determine if a helipad is permissible. Then I only need worry about drone traffic.”

I didn’t want to break it to her that I’m fully expecting drone operators to start hanging out in the left lane for no good reason.

As a daily I-26 driver myself, I completely sympathize with this woman. It’s absolutely astounding how many drivers get in the left lane and take up residence there at 60 mph, oblivious to all the angry drivers whizzing by them in the right lane and offering creative hand gestures suggesting they move over.

In seeking answers to this conundrum, I sought out a driving guru, Lee Roy Ledford, the owner of Mountain Professionals, a driving school that’s been in business 25-plus years and has operations in nine mountain counties. Like any asphalt shaman worth his salt, he chose the path of kindness in trying to explain the inexplicable.

“They’re just not paying attention to the traffic patterns, not paying attention in general,” Ledford said. “Most states have passed a law where you can get a ticket for impeding traffic by going too slow in the left lane, but I think it’s just not paying attention.”

For the record, Ledford said he’s always taught students that you use the left lane when passing, turning left, avoiding an obstruction or when a sign tells you to do so. That’s it.

Folks, it’s called “the passing lane” for a reason, namely it’s where you pass slower traffic in the right lane and then move back over.

SEE ALSO: Boyle column: What’s your most dreaded drive in the Asheville area?

Ledford also said he would teach students that someone loitering in the left lane is likely not a good driver, so if you do opt to pass them on the right, be extra careful, as they’re likely to move over without warning or signaling.

While we joked about our irritation level with this, Ledford also pointed out that slow driving in the left lane can be dangerous, as it can lead to road rage in some cases and cause irritated drivers to swerve around the slow pokes.

This is in part why North Carolina has a law on the books that states vehicles should drive in the right lane unless they’re passing. In part, it reads, “Upon all highways of sufficient width a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the highway,” with some exceptions. Those include, “When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing such movement.”

“The way the law is written, you should use the left lane if you’re passing someone, and once you make that pass, you move back over over,” said Trooper Rico Stephens with the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

This is a safety issue, as vehicles moving much faster than a slowpoke in the left lane could actually create a collision.

“But there’s also the issue of road rage,” Stephens said. “When they can’t get around someone, then they start to tail gate. Or a driver may look for that opportunity when they see an opportunity in the right lane, or the slow lane, to dart around the traffic. Then you’re back to creating a road hazard.”

SEE ALSO: Boyle: Are we really terrible drivers in WNC?

I tried to pry out of Stephens his theories as to why some drivers just won’t move over, but he wisely opted for the Joe Friday path — just the facts, ma’am. 

“It’s not up to us to decide what someone knows and what they don’t know, so I don’t know if there’s a good way to answer that question,” Stephens said.

I can tell you my Facebook friends have plenty of theories as to why drivers do this, and some of them were pretty funny.

“Pure stupid arrogance is why — ‘I will not allow you to drive faster than the speed limit, no matter how (much) it enrages you,'” Pamela J. Kimmell said.

“I’ve had people from this area tell me they do it to annoy people who want to pass them,” Kerri Glover wrote. “Ironically, those very same folks have something else in common.”

Zach Renner suggested that they’re homesick Europeans yearning for a left lane experience, or maybe they just, ahem, stink at driving.

“Some people just have no consideration for others while on the road,” he said. “Simple as that.”

See also: Asheville tops NC in per capita pedestrian accidents

Brittany Harrison offered an interesting theory:

“Honestly, some people like to take the law into their own hands, and feel that by staying in that lane at a slower speed, they’ll be able to slow down other drivers, too,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, studies show that these drivers don’t help control speeding drivers, but actually cause more accidents because other drivers are forced to make quick, and sometimes risky, lane changes to get around them.”

Bill Branyon offered a reason that does make some sense.

“Because the right lane is usually beat up, hell on your suspension,” he said. “But when driving in the left lane I go above the speed limit and pull over when someone is coming from the back.”

A couple people suggesting texting, selfishness or general obliviousness, all of which I think have some credence.

“They seem completely oblivious to their surroundings,” wrote Margaret Simpson Vestal. “It has become so much worse (of course there is also more traffic) that I have to wonder if distracted driving due to phones, email, texts, etc. are a factor. And some people are just jerks.”

Yes. Yes, they are, Margaret.

A former English teacher of mine noted that sometimes the road configuration kind of sticks you in the left lane, and I can see this on I-26, especially for truckers who are heading west on I-40 and have to deal with lots of traffic to move over.

Several people were less charitable.

“Some people are dumb, John,” Bill Treasurer wrote. “Bless their hearts.”

My former coworker, Hayley Benton, an otherwise mild-mannered woman, said she finds the left-lane offenders “extremely annoying.”

“The only acceptable reason to drive slow in the left lane is if you’re about to turn left and GET OUT MY WAYYYYY,” she wrote.

I cannot argue with that.

This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 828-232-5847 or jboyle@citizentimes.com

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