In a Jam? Try to Remember Everyone Else Is, Too

July 14, 2011 | By | Comments (4)

This week’s question, from a reader named Rongrong, is about highway etiquette: If traffic is backed up in an exit lane, is it OK to drive to the front of the line and cut in, to avoid waiting?

I am an impatient person, Rongrong, so I wrestle with the same ethical question when I drive. I too get frustrated by a poorly designed highway exit where cars routinely back up. So when I came across the query you posted on our site, I reflexively nodded in sympathy at the part where you wrote, “The right lane is always very congested with a long line, while three other lanes on the left are almost deserted. Is it OK to use the other lanes to get to the exit faster?”

But, alas, it’s not OK. We must wait our turn. Like everybody else. If there were a line of moviegoers at a theater, would you head to the front to get in first? Of course not, that would be rude! Similarly, if there were a line of passengers waiting to board a plane, you would not push them aside. And on the highway, cutting into a congested lane at the head of the line is not fair to drivers who are patiently awaiting their turn.

The only situation where it’s acceptable to cut in line is an emergency. For instance, if a passenger in your car is a pregnant woman in labor, you may cut the line to get her to the hospital faster.

But if it’s any comfort to you, here’s how the comedian George Carlin once described the feelings that impatient drivers like us have in traffic: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

What do you think? When is it OK to cut a line (on the highway or off)? 

(image courtesy of flickr)