Driving is a constant American pass time - sometimes of necessity and sometimes out of choice. Since we spend so much time on the road and have to interact with a large number of people we know nothing about - we naturally become somewhat opinionated on the subject.
I have had the pleasure and misfortune of making the freeway trek from Albuquerque to Los Angeles by car many times and usually alone. The trips are usually during warm weather and I am driving my 1989 Honda whose cruise control and air conditioner has given out and whose antennae broke off long ago. With the open windows roaring in my ears, there is not much for me to do during these trips but drive. Consequently I pay close attention to what is happening on the road around me.
Because New Mexico is sparsely populated and has lots of open road, I have grown up avoiding driving in crowds whenever possible. On a long distance trip, I don't like to drive in a pack of cars. But every encounter with another car is another opportunity for observation. Long distance trips give ample time for reflection and the forming of opinions.
My philosophy when driving on long road trips is to do what the truckers do. Truckers spend a significant amount of time on the road and seem to have developed a style that makes driving the most efficient. There is one simple rule you can garner from watching truckers: DRIVE IN THE RIGHT-HAND LANE EXCEPT TO PASS. I have found that following this rule religiously will make traffic flow. Breaking this rule will cause a traffic jam on an otherwise deserted stretch of highway.
If or how people follow the single simple trucker rule seems to be telling of their character. There seem to be a few categories of human beings driving the roads. I've broken up the driving public into four types of drivers, and the truckers.
The slow lane driver type is a curious mix of contradictions. The slow lane driver will drive almost exclusively in the right-hand lane - bothering no one and pretty much in their own world. They tend to be the older drivers in large luxury cars driving with their cruise control set from 5 to 20 mph below the speed limit. They also tend to be the ubiquitous RVs with their inevitable tow vehicle behind.
Because slow lane drivers are in their own world, they can be dangerous. Slow lane drivers seem to be not so much driving as they are sitting in a large vehicle and making minor corrections if it's about to drive off the road. Other vehicles will occasionally awaken them to reality for short periods. The slow lane driver might follow another car closely for many miles without passing - passing being too much like driving.
But if the slow lane driver detects another car coming up behind it at a high rate of speed, that will be the queue to move into the passing lane. It will take the slow lane driver approximately ten minutes to pass another slow lane driver. The slow lane driver will give ten car lengths of space to the other slow lane driver before moving back into the right lane - or the amount of time for you to decide that they are not really going to move back into the right-hand lane and if you want to pass them, you will have to do so on the right-hand side. Any attempt at this will cause the slow lane driver to immediately begin signaling that they are in fact going to move to the right-hand lane within the next five minutes.
It is difficult to determine if the slow lane driver is tying to annoy faster drivers or if they are doing that protective thing. I've seen water buffalo (on the nature channel, of course) do this to their young in a herd - the adult buffalo try to keep the baby buffalo from roaming about and having fun because it's dangerous for them.
It seems like truck drivers would naturally fit into the slow lane driver category - but truck drivers really are a category themselves. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that when a truck driver slows a faster driver down (seemingly on purpose) there is a good chance a cop with a radar gun is somewhere up ahead. There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest some truck drivers enjoy annoying smaller vehicles (basically anyone who is not a truck driver). Most truck drivers however, don't really seem to notice there is anyone else on the road except other truck drivers and drive in a fashion which suggests that they are simply trying to get a job done in the most expedient manner.
There is a type of people who never follow the trucker rule. This type drives in the left-hand lane no matter what. These are the people I categorize as the "unawares". Most people, when they hit their teenage years, become painfully aware that there are other people around them. "I am no longer the center of the universe. I must actually consider other people and what they might need." The unawares have apparently never hit this stage in life. They may be very nice people (although I'm not sure how such a contradiction could be explained) - but they have no idea that they exist in a community (the Earth being pretty much full of humans) and that their actions affect other people. They don't notice the frustration caused when their actions create the traffic jam. They simply seem to believe that because they are driving slightly faster than the speed limit, they have a "right" to be in the left-hand lane. Period. End of discussion. The rest of the world can simply adjust to them. This selfish, self-absorbed type of behavior could only be hidden with a lot of effort outside the car.
A closely related type of driver is the driver who is aware of the trucker rule, they just believe they are above it. The are the "fastlane" drivers. I'm not sure if it's because most of my longest trips have been to California or if it's because "Life in the Fast Lane" is a Californian invention. But it seems like most of the people who fit into this category have had Californian license plates. This type still exists however, when there are no Californians around. These are the people who will drive only in the left lane unless someone comes up behind them driving faster and it is convenient for them to move to the right-hand lane.
These drivers will also cause traffic jams in the middle of nowhere if there is a car within a mile up the road on the right-hand side, which is going slower than they are. The fastlane driver should certainly not have to be bothered to slow down for a second for the convenience of someone else behind them. Never mind that fastlane drivers are slowing someone else down - that's just life and fastlane drivers can't really be expected to put any more effort into driving than they already are. Fastlane drivers generally seem to have something more important to do (such as talk on the phone). I've often thought it would be a good idea to have a bumper sticker printed proclaiming "IT'S A PASSING LANE, NOT A LIFESTYLE CHOICE" for these type of drivers.
Curiously enough, I have found in the short periods that I have spent in the southern California, L.A. area - that the left lane is never actually used as a passing lane there. I haven't figured out if it's because the area is so crowded or if a disproportionately large number of Californians are simply fastlane drivers.
The last type of driver to be discussed is the self-righteous driver. I am a member of the self-righteous group and so naturally I consider this type to be some of the best drivers on the road (hence the name). The self-righteous driver drives on the right-hand lane except to pass. This driver travels at the speed limit or above.
This driver will often try to teach the unawares or fastlane drivers the rules of the road by coming up behind them in the left-hand lane and tailgating them for miles even though there is no one in the right-hand lane. The self-righteous driver then becomes impossible to differentiate from the driver they are trying to teach. The self-righteous driver may also sometimes pass the unawares or fastlane driver on the right-hand lane and then quickly move back into the passing lane - cutting off the other driver even though the self-righteous driver is not actually passing anyone either. Again this makes the self-righteous driver indistinguishable from the driver they were attempting to teach.
The best self-righteous drivers will stick to the trucker rule. I tend to be a fanatic about the rule and hence will display driving characteristics which people seem to find baffling. I will move back into the right lane even though no one is behind me and it is quite obvious that I will have to pass another car almost immediately. I will move back into the right lane even when I have been driving very aggressively and it is clearly not to my advantage. This tends to confuse other drivers and they begin to believe that I am either an idiot or playing head games with them. This is a good time to separate myself from these other drivers as quickly as possible by either slowing down, speeding up or finding the first available exit.