Safety corridor sign heading North from Eureka. | Tyler Boydstun

Drive right, pass left

The 101 between Eureka and Arcata sucks and it might be your fault

By | Phil Santos

If you’re afraid to break the law, then get out of the way so I can. This is what usually runs through my head as I drive on the 101 from Arcata to Eureka. Most of that highway stretch is designated as a “safety corridor” with a speed limit of 50 mph. On any given day, I wouldn’t ever drive that slow, but most of the time I don’t have a choice. This is because drivers on the safety corridor tend to drive side by side the whole way, which makes passing impossible. I call this “double driving.” If they’re not doing that, they hang out in the left lane with no intention of passing anyone. Both of these driving habits are not only agitating, but they also make the safety corridor even more dangerous. (If you haven’t driven on the safety corridor, prepare to be confused – if you have, read on.)

Cars make their way North through the Eureka Safety Corridor. | Tyler Boydstun

The 50 mph speed limit is intended to make crossing the highway at any one of the six intersections a bit easier. Slower cars make for easier crossing. It’s pretty intuitive. But there are two problems the speed limit doesn’t fix: poor judgment and a high-pressure 0-50 test. These two issues are compounded by the poor habits I mentioned earlier.

Crossing the 101 comes with a lot of pressure. You have to wait for a significant break in traffic to truly be safe and this wait can be too much for some drivers. I’ve seen many drivers dart across the 101 as if they had their eyes closed, counting on the reflexes and braking ability of oncoming drivers. If you aren’t sure you’ll make it across safely, just wait. It will be a lot faster than getting into an accident. You can reboot a game of Frogger, but the reality isn’t as resettable.

Additionally, you sometimes have to cross one side of the highway and are forced to merge into the fast lane. This is primarily a mandated 0-50 test where you don’t get enough space to get up to speed. This creates a situation where drivers merge into the fast lane at inferior speeds. The result is rapid hard-braking and rapid lane- changing, which encourages accident conditions.

Poorly judged crossings and inadequate mergers can be made safer by following the golden rule of driving: drive right, pass left. When people “double drive,” they block visibility for drivers who are trying to cross the highway because you can’t see down either lane. Poor visibility facilitates a poor judgment. This is alleviated when the left lane is clear, giving a crosser an avenue to look down at the oncoming traffic. Additionally, if the left lane is left open, oncoming drivers can use it to allow other vehicles to enter the highway. As for inadequate mergers into the left lane, the same sentiment applies. When drivers leave the left lane open, crossing a highway and merging into the left lane at inferior speeds becomes easier and safer, because there are fewer cars to compete with.

The golden rule also lets idiots like me break the law by the mph without having to juke left and right. But more importantly, it reduces the potential for road rage. The most dangerous driver isn’t a fast driver, it’s an angry driver. Road rage continues to become more common and more fatal. “Double driving” and left lane loitering trigger road rage like no other. This is from observation, not experience. Merging over could legitimately keep you from becoming a victim of violence.

I recognize that I’m complaining about not being able to speed on a stretch of highway where countless people have died in fatal accidents. But ultimately, I am always thinking about the safety of the people around me. I’m not the only one who has spoken out against the safety corridor or the drivers on it. The safety corridor was meant to be a temporary measure. Most of the intersections are going to be closed off. The ones that remain open will utilize on ramps or traffic lights. But funding for this project is now in question and we might be stuck with the six-mile sloth lanes for a while. In the meantime, if you’re not going to move over so I can speed by, at least do so to cool the head of a stranger. Say it with me: “Drive right, pass left.”

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