Thursday, November 06, 2008


HOV ethics

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.


Ray said...

In a similar vein, I cannot understand, even after all the years I have lived here, why American drivers act the way they do when approaching a construction area where one lane is closed. In England, where I grew up, two lanes of traffic would continue right up to where the one lane ended, and everyone (well, almost everyone) would take it in turns to merge into the single open lane.

Here, there seems to be a competition as to how far before the single lane one can merge, leaving as long an empty lane as possible. It defies logic, and I refuse to obey this apparent convention, choosing instead to stay in that other lane right up to the merge point. Of course, I still feel some guilt in doing this, but really, what is the point of this early merging? It just seems silly to me.

Barry Leiba said...

Yes, and I also am amazed when people refuse to alternate, and try to cut each other out of the alternation. There's a kind of floss you attitude that many drivers seem to have and that (1) makes no real sense and (2) is outright dangerous.

lidija said...

This story reminded me of the time I was traveling with a colleague who grew up in Germany (and lived there till recently) and we were on one of the busiest highways in this part of the country (LIE). There were 2 of us in the car and we were trying to get to a workshop in time and the HOV lane was a very good way to go except he did NOT believe me that we could go there, just the 2 of us in the car. I tried really hard but we stayed in the other lane. Still cracks me up.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and it's a good thing you stuck to your own kind, Leiba. What happens is this, they nab you when you exit. At least that is the way of The Beltway and I-66 here in NoVa. There are usually 2-3 state troopers waiting to pull over singletons and serve them their just deserts a la mode.

Good boy, glad you colored inside the lines.

Miss Beatty Towers

The Ridger, FCD said...

Nothing burns me more than guys running up that empty lane. Maybe if everybody did as you it would be reasonable, but as it is, I often don't let you in.

Frisky070802 said...

A decade ago or so, in NJ they opened a new lane of rt 287 that was 2+. Just as you said, it was badly utilized, and after a couple of years they gave up on the HOV restriction, but while it was there I took great advantage of it when I had to drop my toddler at daycare. The problem was that she was too small for anyone else to see, so it looked like I was a singleton. I'm sure people cursed me out, and I'm also sure most who look like they are alone really are, but for me it was very awkward. The police would hang out at a certain spot, and I always told my kid to raise her arms in the air whenever we approached it, in the hopes the second small person would be noticed ... I did the same if a car was right behind me, just to be sure they knew I was legit.

Paranoid, maybe, but guilt-free.

Barry Leiba said...

He-he... I've always wondered whether babies count — I guess they do, but it doesn't seem to be in the real spirit of the HOV lanes. But I'd have thought that the child-seat would be visible, even if the child isn't. I certainly saw some seats in my little survey, and gave those vehicles the benefit of the doubt when I tallied.