Q&A of the Day – The Safest & Most Dangerous Lanes on the Road
Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.
iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.
Today’s Entry: @brianmuddradio If people driving in left lanes are following the law more often than people weaving through lanes does that mean that middle lanes are more dangerous?
Bottom Line: So many great questions have rolled in since my first two stories on Florida’s most dangerous roads and a related Q&A about what makes South Florida’s roads the most dangerous in the country. Today’s note is one of them. If you’re on a road with three or more lanes, which lanes do you think are the safest and which are the most dangerous? Before diving into an answer, here’s a quick reset with a little info from the story which prompted today’s note.
How often people properly use left lanes (by traveling faster than the traffic to the right of them):
- Correctly: 60%
- Incorrectly: 30%
- Indeterminant (generally due to traffic): 10%
Based on that data what we know is that by a margin of two-to-one, the weavers are the ones who are in the wrong. So, enter today’s question. Which lanes are the safest and which are the most dangerous? Here’s a hint. It was one of the summations from my first story in this series... The riskiest conditions are when traffic is heavy but is moving up to speed on highways. Speed matters, but only to a point. Once vehicles are traveling 50 mph or more, it’s the volume of traffic which matters more. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains a database called the Crashworthiness Data System. In addition to tracking the severity of injuries in traffic accidents, it tracks where they happened (or at least where they started).
In diving into the database, my first takeaway was what percentage of traffic accidents take place on a minimum three-lane highway. The answer, is just over 8%. That’s yet another indication that proximity to other people and cars, as opposed to speed, is the primary factor in traffic accidents. And that takes us to the lanes themselves. Do you have an answer to the lane safety question yet? Which do you think are the safest on highways? Which are the most dangerous?
Percentage of highway accidents by lanes:
- 22% left lanes
- 38% middle lane
- 40% right lane
This is where any remaining perceptions about speed being the biggest factor in causing accidents should die. Not only are left lanes the safest lanes on highways, but they’re also nearly twice as safe as the slowest lanes, the right ones. And the reason is consistent with everything else laid out up to this point. With most lane mergers happening in the right lanes, there’s more congestion, more traffic and thus more opportunity for accidents. But you might notice that the middle lanes aren’t a whole lot safer. And that’s because they get merging traffic from both sides. It’s evidenced in this data that you’re far less likely to be caught in a highway traffic accident by traveling at a higher rate of speed in left lanes than a lower level of speed in the other lanes. And that the least safe place on highways is also the slowest place.
Higher rates of speed and safety don’t exactly go hand in hand, however when it comes to highway safety, it’s an issue in which conventional wisdom isn’t wise. For people who are already uncomfortable with traveling at prevailing rates of speed on highways, the irony is that cruising at lower rates is the least safe speed, and those lanes, the least safe places of all.