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Thursday, September 1, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ron Judd

On way to outdoors, slowed by Lane Campers

Seattle Times staff columnist

We interrupt this week's ongoing media hysteria — OIL-RIG WORKER CUTS LOOSE ALARMINGLY LOUD BELCH, GAS PRICES EXPECTED TO SOAR — to bring a special emergency bulletin to the tens of thousands of you out there camped out in the left lane of a major freeway:

You're an idiot. You're blocking progress. Get out of the way.

A small digression: This is a column I have been putting off for years. Most people, excepting politicians or carpetbagging phonies who happen to own Major League Baseball franchises, find me to be a pretty agreeable guy. I don't like to heap abuse on undeserving victims, especially those who, on the IQ scale, rank several dozen points below a rutabaga.

But people have their limits. And a lot of us have reached them.

In the course of years of freeway driving, it has become increasingly clear to me that the largest single source of clogging of America's interstate arterials is not the highway system itself.

It's pilot stupor.

Somewhere along the line, America either forgot — or failed to learn — how to drive on the freeway. It's that simple. And that infuriating.

You know exactly what I mean: You're driving along somewhere outside the normal clog zones, exulting in the rare opportunity to approach the actual speed limit, when you come up on the imbecile in question.

Driving a minivan, an SUV or a vintage K-Car. In the left lane. At or below the speed limit, beady eyes fixed dead ahead, hands at 10 and 2 o'clock. Refusing to move over. Not now. Not ever. Period. End of discussion. Stop flashing your lights — or get a brake-slam return message.

Lane campers.

They're everywhere. They're proliferating. And they're going to be the death of the rest of us yet.

Again, I don't feel good about this, and here's why: Simply conceding a need to publicly review the basic rules of freeway travel is a concession that the average American driver lacks the reasoning capacity of a granite countertop.

But it clearly must be done, for the sake of all the mouth breathers in the left lane, not to mention the rest of us. So, here goes, class: Traffic on freeways flows effectively only if a couple basic rules — each of which could be mastered by your average garden slug — are followed. To wit:

(1) THE LEFT LANE IS A PASSING LANE. It is public property. You have no birthright to it. Period.

If you merge onto Interstate 5 southbound in Seattle, wander over to the left lane, and plan to stay there all the way to Chula Vista, Calif., YOU'RE BREAKING THE LAW, and singlehandedly holding back, and imperiling, hundreds of other drivers forced to pass on the right.

This is true whether traffic is moving at 35 mph or 135 mph. Exactly what part of keep-right-except-to-pass do you fail to understand?

(2) Freeway driving, contrary to popular opinion, is an active endeavor, in which a driver, unless he plans to hug the right lane at slow speeds, should be frequently CHANGING LANES.

We know this latter bit comes as a shock, and a burdensome notion, to you lane campers. Clearly, the practice of flicking that hand down to activate the least-utilized gadget on your car — the turn signal — can rob your digits of energy normally held in reserve for your more important driving activities, such as nose-picking or drool-wiping. But just try it once in a while.

(3) To review: There really is no reason, ever, for a driver to be camped in the left lane for more than, oh, 20 seconds. Period. You get in it, you pass, you get out of it. Is any part of this practice still confusing to anyone?

I blame the state for much of this. Seriously: When is the last time you ever saw a lane camper pulled over by a State Trooper? In 26 years of frequent freeway driving, I've never seen it happen.

Clearly, it's a tough one for Troopers, because people tend to be on their best behavior when cop cruisers are around. But how about a public-education campaign?

I've seen two or three keep-right-except-to-pass signs along the freeway. Unfortunately, they're completely ineffective, as they use written words instead of a pictograph capable of penetrating the lane-camper skull.

Try this: A little cartoon of a Ford Expedition in the left lane with a guy on top sprawled out in a chaise lounge, roasting a bratwurst over a fire, yakking on a BlackBerry, as traffic piles up behind him. Caption: DON'T BE A LANE CAMPER!

Meanwhile, it's in the hands of the rest of us. Maybe we just need an internationally recognizable signal to inform the lane campers that they need to sign up for remedial driver's ed.

Next time you're forced to pass one on the right, give the clueless dolt a nice hand gesture. No, not that one. Just a simple Bart Simpson "Doh!" forehead slap will suffice.

And, scream really loud: "LANE CAMPER!"

Not being into miracles, I don't expect prompt lane changing to result. But maybe sooner or later, they'll all get a complex and decide just to stay home and watch Oprah.

Ron C. Judd's Trail Mix column appears here every Thursday. To contact him: 206-464-8280 or rjudd@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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