Monday, August 20, 2012

Teach Your Teen: What Your Lane Position Says About You

Lane Positions: Getting on the Same Page
If you're like me, you spent most of your life not knowing anything about lane positions. Then I became a driving instructor. Now you're teaching your teen. So it's time to put a name to something you don't even realize you already know....There's actually a name for your car's position on the roadway. The names aren't very original. But that's okay. They're easy to remember.
  1. Driving in the center of your lane is technically referred to as driving in lane position one (LP1).
  2. Hugging the left side of the lane is LP2.
  3. Hugging the right edge of the lane is LP3.

I'm only giving you  three, but keep in mind that some fanatics add a fourth and fifth as you cross the lane lines on either side.

Drivers alter their lane positions for many reasons. 
If you are driving in the center of your lane in normal conditions, the position and speed of your car tells other roadway users that they can trust you. If you pass a parked car or bicycle and move to LP2 and reduce speed, you show that you are considerate. When you see that oncoming traffic includes a mobile home on a large truck and you move to LP3, you indicate comprehension that bigger vehicles will squash you if there was a collision.

Bottom line, you will intuitively trust or be wary of other drivers depending on the cues their driving habits send you.

Vehicle Body Language VS. Verbal Language
We're all familiar with distracted drivers who put on their turn signals to change lanes and then forgot to turn it off. It's almost like they're saying, "Hey I'm turning, yup gonna turn any second, just you wait, I'm getting ready to turn." We adjust our driving to give them space but the signal keeps blinking while they're oblivious. After a few seconds we don't trust them anymore. We don't trust them because body language (position of the car) always trumps verbal language (blinkers).

I know a car is going to turn right at a stop sign when it gets into LP3, slows down, the wheels are turned to the right and the driver makes a head check. It doesn't matter if  he has a turn signal on or not. His body language tells me exactly what to expect.

Help Your Teen Recognize What Specific Behaviors Mean.
  • Drivers who weave in and out of traffic, maintain high speeds relative to traffic flow, and tailgate are aggressive and should not to be trusted. Let them pass you. You'll breathe a lot easier without the pressure building behind you.
  • Drivers looking down frequently may be texting, looking at a map or even reading. Build your space cushion around you (especially on the freeway) so that if their distraction causes a collision then you won't be a part of it.
  • Drivers who turn left from LP1 or LP3 may be unfamiliar with their destination or not have much driving experience. Show them extra caution since they may do something unexpected.
  • Drivers who don't slow down at stop signs will either not stop or will stop well over the stop line. Be careful if you are a pedestrian.
  • Drivers who pass bicycles by crossing the center line (essentially giving them ten feet of space) do not understand how big their vehicle is. The average lane is 12 feet wide. The average car is 6 feet wide. A semi-truck is 8 feet wide. Hugging LP2 while passing a bike will give the rider approximately 6 feet of space, which is double the minimum 3 feet required by law.
  • Of course, each driver and situation is different. The more frequently you work with your teens on assessing the driving behavior of others, the better they will learn to evaluate their own driving and make corrections as needed.

Anticipate Other Drivers Actions
How do you know a car is really going to stop at an intersection? Or turn? Or make a lane change? Look at the following factors to help you know how to adjust your own driving:
  1. Vehicle speed (too fast, too slow, just right) 
  2. Direction of the tires (straight or turning)
  3. Lane position (LP1, LP2, LP3)
  4. Signal lights (turning, braking, backing)
  5. The eyes have it (Do other drivers see you? The pedestrians? The bicycles? The road construction?) 

Practice answering these questions about other drivers for the next week. Does their behavior show they know what they're doing? Or are they putting out mixed signals? Knowing the answers will build years to your experience level in just a few short days.

So, just what does your lane position say about you? 
Whether or not I should trust you, of course.


  1. If someone looks like they might be lost, slowing down, speeding up, switching lanes back and forth, it's best to give them a wide berth. You don't know what snap decision they are going to make next and you don't want to be in their way!

    1. So true Mike. Increasing your space cushion around your vehicle can give you increased time to react to another driver's split second decision.

  2. It always amazes me when I see riders that are riding in the incorrect lane, or lane position. Thanks for sharing your blog.

  3. Your comments regarding the space to "give" to cyclists is misguided and will only encourage dangerous, not defensive behavior.

    First, the average car width of 6' typically does not include mirrors, which add up to an additional foot on either side. That means your "generous" 6' is really closer to 4'. That's car to curb distance. A bike rider is at least 2' wide. So now you are down to 2' and this assume that the rider is as far right as POSSIBLE, which is often not practical because of road hazards. So you are probably within the 1' zone of passage. I challenge you to pass your child on a bike within 1' and then tell me how safe it is.

    Here is someone like you passing me on my bike. How would you feel if your child took this video after someone gave them the advice you've given above about "safe" passing distance for cyclists?

    1. Charles nailed it. Your advice is dangerous. If this is the advice you give to your teenager I would suggest you also begin training them in stress- and grief-reduction techniques for when they kill or maim a cyclist while passing within the lane.


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