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road sage

Nobody likes drivers who occupy two spaces in a crowded parking lot. It’s the embodiment of automotive entitlement. Why take one spot, the offenders believe, when you can take two? These drivers are like people who walk their dogs in cemeteries – for some reason they think it’s okay for their pets to urinate and defecate on other people’s ancestors. Your pain. Their gain. Such transgressions are the catalyst for many profane tirades, angry dashboard notes and, in more rare instances, petty vehicular damage.

What then, do we make of drivers who occupy two traffic lanes while in motion? Taking two parking spots is obnoxious. Swerving in and out of two lanes while you are driving is dangerous.

I’m referring to the “drifters,” motorists who, due to fatigue, distraction or ambivalence, drift from their vehicle’s lane into an adjoining one. Sometimes drivers glide slowly in and out, or absentmindedly straddle the hash marks and appropriate two lanes. At other times, they jerk suddenly into the lane nearby.

Drifters are infuriating, unnerving and ubiquitous. You see them everywhere. They are so common there’s a country band in Georgia called “The Lane Drifters.” The other week, for instance, I watched as a fellow in a Subaru straddled two lanes for six blocks, drifting in and out, until a parking cop finally gave him the horn. I saw the look on the Subaru sloth when he heard the blast; his expression said, “Oh, am I driving?”

When it comes to drifting, which lane is the worst? According to a study commissioned by the British insurance company Direct Line, it’s the middle lane (53 percent of the time, at least in the United Kingdom). Direct Line estimates that annually, 1.5 million drivers swerve to counter what the Brits call “lane drifts,” and an astonishing 12 million must slam the brakes to avoid drifter-induced collisions.

It’s perplexing to find such terrible driving in our enlightened age. Lane-keep assist and lane departure warning technologies, which alert drivers when they accidentally veer into a different lane, have been around for almost 20 years. The technology is standard issue in many high-end brands such as BMW. Teslas come with “Lane Departure Avoidance.” It alerts a driver if they are leaving their lane without signaling and checks to see if the driver’s hands are on the wheel. If the driver fails to take control, and Tesla’s “Traffic Aware Cruise Control” is in use, their car will put on the hazards and slow to 25 km/h below the speed limit.

Why then, do we witness so many drifting incidents that you could start a rewards program? (For every ten drifters you see you get a free bottle of aspirin.)

Fatigue is one culprit. Many drivers who drift on the highway are also drifting off to sleep. These are the cases that cause calamity. Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that 21 per cent of 124 lane drifting incidents between 2005 and 2007 in the United States that resulted in fatal or serious injuries were caused by drivers who had fallen asleep at the wheel. Technology may alleviate this problem but it can’t eliminate it. Motorists must not drive when exhausted, sleep-deprived or on certain prescription medications. It’s simple.

Unfortunately, there’s no high-tech cure for irresponsibility. There are drifters who simply can’t be bothered to pay attention. To them, your lane is my lane. You can find these folks on the highway or the side streets. Complacency is the reason for their poor lane hygiene. Once upon a time when they earned their drivers’ license they may have appreciated and respected operating a motor vehicle but now they take it for granted.

Show me a drifter and I’ll show you someone on their mobile device. Here, technology is not the solution, it’s the instigator. Distraction leads these motorists to drift. Until we find a way to make distracted driving as socially unacceptable as drunk driving these folks will keep driving and keep drifting.

It starts with us. It starts with drivers.

It will take a village to make drifters realize they’re…uh…how can I put this politely? “Not cool.”

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