Speeding car at fault, but others should be mindful

I have an unanswered question in regard to lane usage which your column brought to mind. How would an officer assess the situation when a driver (say on Interstate 5) in the left-hand lane is going slightly over the posted speed in moderate traffic, and another driver going much higher than posted speed comes way too close behind, then at the first opportunity darts around to the right and back into the left lane, thereby blocking the move the first driver would normally have made into the right lane. Is the person going slower still the one at fault, or is the one who is repeatedly changing lanes at fault? Definitely interested in your reply.

— Judy T.

So many things to address here Judy, some law, some personal opinion, which will probably get me a spate of e-mail.

First the law portion: If someone was speeding much higher than the posted speed limit, then that's what is going to draw my primary attention. Then I'll also be looking at just how close they end up following someone, to see if they are following more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the traffic and condition of the highway. If they are too close then they would be cited.

As far as repeatedly changing lanes, that's legal, as long as the lane changes are done with safety and appropriately signaled for at least 100 feet before each lane change is made.

Now, on to the personal opinion part. My thought is that it's impossible for two vehicles to occupy the same spot at the same time.

The driver in the first vehicle that is passing another vehicle always has the first opportunity to move over before any vehicle that might be following because the following vehicle would have to wait to clear the car being passed before changing lanes while the lead car should already have cleared and be able to do so. The problem I often see is that the lead car isn't paying attention to their rear-view mirrors to see closing traffic nor do they move over at first chance.

If, in your example, the lead car passes another car, then that person should immediately signal and move over. If the second car can change lanes and "block the move the first driver would normally have made" then the first car waited too long to make his move over into the right-hand lane. I seldom see a second car swoop into a lead car's space if the lead car signals intent to change lanes as soon as they're passing by the car in the slow lane. Most drivers will allow the lane change to happen and then speed on their way if that's what they were doing before.

So there you have it. In my opinion, the lead driver controls his own fate, by paying attention to traffic behind him and by signaling intent as soon as they know they will be changing lanes, and then promptly doing so.

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a weekly Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail cochradc@jacksoncounty.org.

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