Transportation

Those Infuriating Drivers That Take Over The Left Lane And Prevent Passing Will Undoubtedly Be Stifling For AI Self-Driving Cars


Left lane hog!

I’m referring to those darned drivers that sit in the left lane nearly forever, cruising leisurely along without a seeming care in the world, backing up traffic as they do so.

You’ve undoubtedly been stuck behind such a driver.

Indubitably many times.

 It is exasperating, infuriating, and altogether makes you want to bust a gasket.

They get into the left lane and occupy the lane as though it is owned by them. On top of this, they decide to be the unofficial determiner of the allowed speed for the rest of nearby traffic. For example, even though the posted speed limit might be 65 miles per hour, the left lane hog will opt to go at say 55 miles per hour.

Why so slow?

There are lots of frequently cited reasons or excuses for this type of behavior.

One claim is that they are going at the safest appropriate speed. This is based on the logic that the posted speed is the maximum allowed speed, which is not necessarily the safest allowed speed. Indeed, the driver’s handbook clearly states that you should never assume that the posted speed is the speed that you are to be driving at. A driver is required to go at a speed that is safest for the conditions and circumstances of the roadway, and presumably no faster than the posted speed limit.

All of this translates into some drivers that believe they are an excellent judge of what the appropriate speed is.

Thus, they are more than happy to sit in the left lane and prevent other traffic from moving faster than their self-divined safety speed. The drivers that are behind this obnoxious lane hog are probably going to get riled up and angry at the pace being established. But in the mind of the left lane hog, that’s of no consequence since anyone not obediently abiding by the now enforced speed threshold is plainly wrong and needs to clearly and vigorously be put in their place.

The vaunted rule of thumb that we all live by is that you are to use the left lane as the “fast lane” and that you are to also use the left lane as a passing lane. Otherwise, get out of the left lane.

This is an inherently efficient way to do things. By rigorously adhering to those golden rules, traffic can be more neatly undertaken. It is like trying to get water to flow through a bunch of plumbing pipes. The right lane might get clogged up, but the left lane should not get equally plugged. The left lane should always be generally open and available.

Sure, there are moments when the left lane has a car getting into it from the right lane, and then the vehicle has to get up-to-speed and at some point get back into the right lane. This should be done expeditiously and all drivers ought to learn how to do this with proficiency.

That being said, a lot of drivers do not seem to have figured out how to make that transition into and then out of the left lane.

They botch the maneuver. They cut off traffic that is already in the left lane and disrupt those drivers, potentially sparking a car crash. They sit way too long in the left lane before opting to get out and back into the right lane. When they get back into the right lane, they mess up that act too, including causing the left lane traffic to come to a crawl and trying to squeeze into the right lane in a manner that disrupts those law-abiding drivers.  

Okay, so there are left lane hogs that earnestly believe they are helping mankind by being the speed regulator. They presumably are thinking with their heart. Unfortunately, this is shortsighted and actually illegal if they are unduly upsetting the prevailing traffic. You can imagine their shock at getting a ticket for their presumed heroic efforts, mindlessly unaware that they are not somehow magically ordained as the designated speed police or unofficial traffic cop on our highways and byways.

Taking the law into your own hands is a dangerous play.

We certainly see and hear lots of stories about road rage that began with these kinds of situations. A person gets stuck behind a lollygag in the left lane. This leads to horn honking. The drivers of both cars think they are completely doing the right thing. They agree to pull over to the side of the road. After shouting obscenities and insults, they go to fisticuffs. Nutty human behavior, that’s for sure.

There is a multitude of ways that hogging the left lane can produce car crashes or at least fender benders. A car coming up from behind the hog in the left lane might decide to try and pass around the blocker by darting into the right lane. This is generally an unexpected move. Traffic in the right lane will get summarily cut off. Bam, a car collision occurs.

The driver that ducked into the right lane will try to point fingers at the other car that was holding the left lane hostage. Sorry, no dice. You are not going to wiggle out of bad driving by simply pointing at another bad driver. Two wrongs do not make a right. No matter how upset you get with a presumed wrong driver, you aren’t given a green light to do something untoward. That’s not how things work in the real world.

Keep in mind too that some left-lane hogs are clueless about what they are doing. They perhaps never heard about the left lane as being the fast lane and nor that is a passing lane. It seems bizarre that they have a driver’s license and do not know this, or even without a driver’s license they surely would have gleaned this rule of thumb by having driven on the roadways.

Anyway, inexplicably, the driver is oblivious to this.

It is tempting to then aid those drivers by awakening their driving sensibilities. That’s why those that honk their horn at such a driver do so, trying to get them out of their mental fog and into the driving realm. Another tactic involves riding on the bumper of the hog. You can turn your headlights on and off, perhaps using your high beams. There is even the roll down your window and wave your arm tactic.

I think you might already know that all of those actions are pretty much a dangerous gambit and should not be employed.

Some left-lane blockers will react to those exhortations in ways that make the situation worse. They will become preoccupied with making sure that you don’t get past them. The driver might intentionally go slower, wanting to show you that they are in charge.

Oddly enough, when you switch lanes to the right, doing so to try and get around the left lane hog, they might opt to also get into the right lane. At first glance, this seems like they have finally gotten the message and realize they were hoarding the left lane. Maybe so.

On the other hand, sometimes the left lane hog wants to block you while you are trying to use the right lane as a passing lane. They will get into the right lane as you do so. The moment that you realize that the left lane is apparently now available, and you begin to aim back into the left lane, they will do the same.

This is scary driving.

Cars moving along at around 60 miles per hour should not be playing a game of tag. The back-and-forth shenanigans sometimes stretch out over several miles of driving distance. The drivers are in a frame of mind that entails a winner-take-all mindset. They are so immersed in their own competition that they fail to realize there is other traffic on the roadway too. All in all, this type of adverse oppositional driving can produce a cascading car incident that causes a multitude of vehicles to collide.

Drivers often get into their own mental cocoons while driving. They begin to disconnect the reality of being in a multi-ton machine that has tremendous speed and power, becoming numb to the physics of what they are doing. In a manner of speaking, they almost seem to believe they are playing a video game.

The thing is, there are assuredly life-and-death consequences in this case.

One complaint that some have about the public roadways in the United States is that we do not have a federally mandated one-universal standard about how to use the left lane across all of the states. Instead, each state sets up its own rules.

Some states have no specific indications about how a left lane is to be used. Other states have a written rule that you are okay to use the left lane continuingly until you need to make an exit (thus, at that juncture, needing to get into the right lane for those right lane oriented offramps). Those states usually don’t say anything about using the left lane for passing purposes.

Some states are clearer about the passing aspects. For example, the rule might be that you must move to the right if a car behind you is desirous of proceeding past you. Usually, this rule has a caveat that you do not need to undertake this allowed passing if you are already at the maximum posted speed or at an otherwise optimal safe speed. Some make added caveats such as this kind of rule only applies on roads that are at the speed limit of 65 mph.

The point being that supposedly you can be sympathetic to your fellow drivers about the left lane usage due to the confusion of overlapping, conflicting, or unstated rules that occur across each of the states throughout the USA. When you drive in a particular state, the left lane usage is like the proverbial box of chocolates, namely you never know what you are going to get.

Others would scoff mightily at that contention. If you are driving anywhere in the United States, you ought to know what the correct driving action is. Do not drive in a given state if you aren’t versed in their driving laws. Furthermore, everybody knows about the left lane as a cultural phenomenon about how to properly drive. You don’t need to read a state-by-state driving guide to know what to do.

For those of you who have driven the autobahn in Germany, you’ve certainly seen how the left lane is rigorously treated there. By and large, drivers know to get the heck out of the left lane and keep it clear for other drivers. Any meandering tourists that either does not realize the rule or that decide they are going to flout the rule, well, they’ll find out soon enough the err of their ways.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we are still struggling day-to-day and mile-by-mile with the left lane usage.

In Arkansas, they recently put in place a new set of rules about the left lane. The old rule said this: “Motor vehicles shall not be operated continuously in the left lane of a multilane roadway whenever it impedes the flow of other traffic.

That seems relatively clear-cut.

Does it seem straightforward to you?

After mulling things over, Arkansas has revised their vehicle code and it replaced that single sentence with this longer passage: “Except as otherwise provided in this section, a vehicle shall not be driven upon the left lane of a multilane highway, except as follows: (1) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing that movement; (2) When all other lanes for traveling in the same direction are closed to traffic while under construction or repair; (3) When all other lanes for traveling in the same direction are in disrepair or are in an otherwise undrivable or unsafe condition; or (4) When a vehicle is preparing to exit the multilane highway on the left.”

You could suggest that the more verbose version is an improvement because it adds specificity. Some though are concerned that it is too much for drivers to know, especially when in the heated battle of driving on public roadways.

Another concern is that it includes seemingly nebulous language. For example, what does “undrivable or unsafe condition” truly mean? This could be a loophole for a driver that asserts the right lane was assuredly undrivable or unsafe (their contention could be entirely arguable or fictionalized). All you’ve done is given those left-lane hogs a handy ready-made excuse and rendered things easier for them by adding phrasing to embolden their outlandishly outstretched driving proclivities.

The lengthy passage also has gotten some to question the scope of the language.

Here’s how.

I’ve previously covered the move-over slow-down laws that are essential for safety on our roadways, see my coverage at this link here. If a driver decides to get into the left lane while in Arkansas due to the desire to do a move-over and avoid an emergency vehicle that is partially in the right lane, where does that fit in this wording? This use case does not appear to be in any of the four stated rules. At best, you would do a squeaker and claim that the right lane was “unsafe” at that moment and therefore the third rule applies. Others decry that the move-over isn’t explicitly called out in one of the rules or stated as a fifth rule.

All of this has to do with something known in the driving world as having lane discipline.

Drivers in some locales have rather strict and overtly top-notch lane discipline. In other locales, lane discipline is lax and confounding. The problem comes to the fore in those locales with the mishmash of lane discipline. When drivers do not have the same understanding of how to drive, it can produce chaos and car crashes. Plus, having the same understanding is the first essential part, while the second and equally or more essential part is stridently employing the agreed lane discipline.

Being loosey-goosey with human drivers is fraught with troubles.

To reduce car crashes, you need to make the driving rules and conditions patently apparent and vociferously enforced. Without that kind of discipline, lane discipline is out the window. Drivers will still do wild and endangering driving acts regardless of rules, but the hope and assumption are that any willy nilly opens the floodgates for horrific driving.

We’ve been ruminating quite a bit about driving in the left lane and the role of lane discipline.

Consider that the future of cars consists of AI-based true self-driving cars.

There isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, and nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.

Here’s an intriguing question that is worth pondering: How might left lane usage change in an era of AI-based true self-driving cars?

I’d like to first further clarify what is meant when I refer to true self-driving cars.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Car

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Left Lane Usage

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.

Why is this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient.

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

First, the good news.

For whatever left lane usage rules that we might come up with, the odds are pretty high that the AI driving system can be programmed to abide by those rules. If each of the various US states does things its own way, that’s fine too. When a self-driving car enters into a US state from another one, it would merely swap out the rules being used from that other state and swap in the rules for the state being entered.

Easy-peasy.

Furthermore, essentially all AI driving systems across all of the various brands and models of self-driving cars could readily include the same sets of rules. This would mean that the self-driving cars on our public roadways would all have the same basis for how they will utilize left lanes. Unlike the haphazard nature of human drivers, self-driving cars could consistently and reliably implement those rules.

This saliently points out the fact that the rules would not only be stored in the AI driving system but also be carried out rigorously by the driving efforts, nearly to the letter. The problem with human drivers is that they might forget the rules, or decide to undercut the rules or do whatever they darned well please to do. Assuming that the programming of the AI driving system is written to strictly adhere to the rules, this would algorithmically be applied and occur with relatively precise enactment.

Before we get overly carried away with the AI somehow being perfect at the left lane adoption, we need to be realistic and revisit the nature of the rules that are likely to be used. Recall that earlier the Arkansas driving law indicated that the left lane can be used whenever the right lane appears to be undrivable or in an unsafe condition.

There is a lot of ambiguity amidst the notion of being undrivable and also the aspects of being unsafe.

Assuming that this vague phrasing is not viably tied down to specifics, it means that each of the AI driving systems as developed by their respective teams of AI developers will likely have different ways of ascertaining the conditions of being undrivable or being unsafe. This lack of consistency means that a particular brand of a self-driving car that is using a particular AI driving system might assign the labels of undrivable or unsafe to a situation that some other AI driving systems might not.

You see, a lot of how we drive has to do with probabilities and figuring out estimates of what might happen. We somehow do this in our human noggins. For self-driving cars, the AI driving system is programmed to explicitly calculate the likelihoods and chances of things that are happening or might happen. All in all, the efforts by a specific brand of a self-driving car and its version of the AI driving system can arrive at different formulations about what driving actions to take, subject to how the algorithms have been devised.

In any case, despite that variability, you can generally rest assured that self-driving cars would be more consistent and reliable about how to deal with left lanes than the capricious nature of everyday human drivers.

We can pat the back of self-driving cars by also bringing up another advantage they will have while on the public roadways, namely the use of V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communication.

This has to do with self-driving cars being considered as connected in addition to working autonomously. They are connected via several means, the most notable perhaps being V2V. An AI driving system of a self-driving car will be programmed to send electronic messages to other nearby self-driving cars.

Suppose that a self-driving comes upon a piece of debris lying in the middle of a lane on the highway. The AI driving system, upon detecting the debris, might be designed to start broadcasting a V2V message so that any nearby self-driving cars will get notified about the debris. Those other self-driving cars would then take into account the handy warning. This might then have those AI driving systems opt to get out of the lane that contains the debris or takes an earlier exit to avoid coming upon the debris.

The beauty of using V2V would be the possibility of coordinating the actions of a multitude of self-driving cars when they are near each other in traffic.

Returning to the left lane usage aspects, whenever a self-driving car wanted to maneuver from the right lane into the left lane, it could send out a quick V2V message to other self-driving cars that are already in the left lane. Those AI driving systems would then presumably aid the other self-driving car in making the lane change, doing so by providing a sufficient gap among the vehicles or taking other helpful actions.

We oftentimes hope that human drivers will do the same for us when we are on the highways. There are those courteous and supportive drivers out there that sometimes act in that selfless manner.

Unfortunately, and though this might seem a bit pessimistic about humanity, most drivers seem to act in a dog-eat-dog way and the last thing they would ever do is give another driver a beneficial hand involving left lane usage. I hope that doesn’t appear caustic, and maybe it is only me that seems to abundantly come across those unhelpful and altogether meanspirited drivers.

Here’s yet another big plus for self-driving cars and the lane discipline considerations.

In theory, we could come up with a zillion more rules about numerous other variants entailing how to properly perform the left lane usage. We could also come up with a ton of rules about the right lane usage. Add as many as you like. For humans, this would go straight over their heads and they would shrug their shoulders and lament that it is impossible to abide by so many rules.

Not so with the AI driving systems.

We can just keep piling on rules to our heart’s content.

Plus, the rules could readily be changed from time-to-time, and then electronically pushed out to the AI driving systems, doing so using the OTA (Over-the-Air) updating communication components that self-driving cars will be outfitted with. This will be nearly seamless. In contrast, as you know, changing driving rules for human drivers is a nightmare and some will get wind of the changes and others will not. In a sense, one push of the button and all self-driving cars could be updated (this, sorry to say, has some potential downsides, see my coverage at this link here).

Conclusion

This all adds up to a wonderful world of self-driving cars readily cooperating with each other and using the left lane in the manner that we might dream it should be used.

Wait for a second, there is a fly in the ointment, as they say.

What is the kicker that will make things not quite so hunky-dory?

The straightforward answer in two words: Human drivers.

Allow me to briefly elaborate.

There are some proponents of self-driving cars that have their heads in the Utopian clouds and oftentimes forget about those pesky and innumerable human drivers. The wistful belief is that we will only have self-driving cars and do away with any human driving. Maybe so, but that’s a somewhat farfetched vision of the future and not in the cards for now.

Keep in mind that there are currently about 250 million conventional human-driven cars in the United States alone. Those won’t be tossed into the junk heap overnight. It will take decades upon decades for self-driving cars to be gradually rolled out, and increasingly dispense with human-driven cars. We will also need to contend with those human drivers that insist they will only give up their driving upon the day that you pry their cold dead hands from their steering wheels.

Why does it matter that there will be a mixture of self-driving cars and human-driven cars?

Because the AI driving systems are going to try and abide by the left lane usage rules, and most likely be stymied or messed up by human drivers that aren’t doing so. In the same manner that you might today get blocked or otherwise confounded in your driving due to a left lane hog, the same issues are facing self-driving cars.

It gets worse too, in a manner of speaking.

Human drivers are already starting to bully self-driving cars. They do so because they can, see my coverage at this link here.

In essence, the AI driving systems are programmed to be relatively polite and civil at driving. When human drivers encounter other human drivers that are kind and considerate, this is usually “punished” by taking advantage of those generous drivers. Remember, it is a dog-eat-dog world. Or, more aptly, the viewpoint is that if there are drivers that are sheep, while the drivers that are the wolves will surely and axiomatically sheer them.

And the self-driving cars right now look like sheep to many of those overbearing take-no-prisoners human drivers.

You can bet your bottom dollar that once self-driving cars become prevalent, there will be hordes of human drivers that will rejoice. The cause for their jubilation is that those self-driving cars in traffic all around them will be easily bamboozled. Easily bullied. Easily taken advantage of.

In total, this could spell disaster for left lane usage. You’ll have some human drivers that want to overtake self-driving cars. Those human drivers are probably already doing the same to human drivers and will continue as such toward the remaining human drivers on the roadways. Meanwhile, some human drivers won’t realize what is going on, or some human drivers are trying to be helpful to self-driving cars.

Could be a colossal mess!

I don’t want to end on such a sour note.

I could go on and on about this topic, but let’s end it for now on this key and a rather upbeat facet if you will.

Self-driving cars will have all kinds of sensors, such as video cameras, radar, LIDAR, and so on. They can record the antics of those scheming human drivers. Presumably, those recordings could electronically be beamed directly to the driving enforcement authorities and those human drivers would get nailed for their driving recklessness. See my discussion about this at the link here.

Self-driving cars might hold the upper hand, you see, being able to tattletale on despicable human drivers and do so in real-time.

Take that, you ruffian human drivers, and score a point for the AI.



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