I was recently travelling a busy road during the oddly named “rush hour”, a time when one does best not to be in any rush to get somewhere. This particular road had on its left an “HOV lane” — a high-occupancy vehicle lane, using as its dubious definition of “high-occupancy” the number two. Most areas require only two persons in a vehicle to qualify it for the HOV lanes because when they tried four, or even three, they found that there weren’t enough takers.
And, well, since I, as most of the drivers on the road, was alone in my car, I crept along at something on the order of five miles per hour, while those in the HOV lane made decidedly better progress. I eyed them as they passed, and here’s the thing:
Many of them, approximately half in a quick sample I took, also had only one person aboard.
HOV lanes are often also open to hybrid cars and other environmentally groovy forms of transportation, so the real portion of scofflaws was surely less than half. Still, it was clear from the number of PT Cruisers, pickup trucks, and expensive European sedans that lots of these drivers were just taking their chances in exchange for a quicker trip home. When a Hummer hummed by, I declared it the last straw, and began tossing a blog entry around in my head, something to pass the five-mile-per-hour time.
Should I join them? Surely not! I’d likely be the one to get caught at it, that’d be my luck. But more than that, it’s not right. It’s not right. Yet, on the other hand, I’m not slavish about staying under the speed limit, am I? I’d be run off the road if I tried that around home. And how about you? Do you not speed occasionally? Once in a while forgo the signal for a quick lane change? Or now and then answer your mobile en route?
What makes us decide which of these laws to break and which to abide by?
And, after all, there’s plenty of room over there; it wouldn’t hurt anyone if I popped over into that lane. There’s one... another... three, four, five... ten, twenty. They’ll get past this mess in seven minutes, instead of the forty-five that it’ll take me. If they get to do that, why can’t I? The risk of getting caught is low, the reward is getting half an hour or so of my afternoon back, and... well... everyone is doing it. If I don’t get into that gap and cruise on ahead, someone else will.
And there I was: the voice in my left ear said, “Don’t be silly, just do it,” while the voice in my right told me that I’d feel better if I held on and did the right thing. Did I see horns and halos on tiny apparitions in my peripheral vision?
As these advice-bearing pixies battled it out, I found myself going 25 miles per hour, and then 40. The traffic was thinning and speeding up, and soon I looked to my left and saw parity in our travel speed. I waved at the driver over there next to me, who responded with a strange look and a little nudge on his accelerator. There was no telling what I might do, of course, and he knew nothing about what had actually been going through my mind.
Should I have just shifted over a lane and joined those others in living on the edge? What will I do the next time I have to make this choice?
I think the right answer is to stop at the pub and wait out the storm, leaving rush hour to those who really are in a rush.