Does lane weaving get you anywhere faster?

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Does lane weaving really get you anywhere quicker? Well, maybe. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Does lane weaving really get you anywhere quicker? Well, maybe. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Lane weaving is where drivers switch from traffic lane to traffic lane in the belief that by passing someone, they get to their destination faster. The practice is not as effective as one might think.

Lane weaving had it’s myth busted

Discovery channel program “Mythbusters” took a crack at lane weaving, and they found it doesn’t make much difference. The show ran two tests by sending two and then five cars one a 46-mile drive through traffic.

In the first test, one car stayed in one lane and one car wove through traffic. In the second, four cars were confined to one lane while one car wove through traffic. The first test found the weaver arrived two minutes earlier. The second test found the lane weaver still arrived three minutes, four, thirteen and seventeen minutes earlier than those who stayed in their lanes.

The largest difference was 24 percent; the smallest was 3 percent. In other words, it could somewhat pay off, or it can not make much of a difference.

Economy of scale

Whether or not lane weaving saves time depends, like so many other things, on an economy of scale. It would, therefore, depend on exactly how many cars were on the road at the same time, how fast they were going and how many were in each lane.

Also, weaving through traffic causes traffic to slow. As one car pulls into, say, the right lane into the left lane, there may be traffic behind them. If some discourteous person cuts them off by weaving into their lane, that driver will have to brake to not be in a car crash. So will the car behind them, and so on.

How this becomes relevant is that if someone else is lane weaving in the distance ahead of you, and you plan on lane weaving…it probably isn’t going to work as well, because you’ll have switched lanes to go faster into a lane where traffic is slowing thanks to another jackass like yourself.

Thus, an element of game theory is introduced into lane weaving. In fact, there’s a fantastic statistical model you can read here, at the Playing With Models blog, written by Alex Meitiv. As he points out, you can save a lot of time by lane weaving if you’re the only doing it. However, if everyone does, no one gains anything.

The virtues of staying in a lane

While lane weaving is certainly appealing to the leaden of feet, there’s something to be said for picking a lane and staying in it. Weaving through traffic isn’t inherently unsafe, but doing so unsafely – pulling out suddenly rather than in a responsible, considered manner – can lead to car crashes.

Another effect the Mythbusters team noticed? Psychological stress. Most of one’s time in traffic is spent going to work, meaning you’ll stress yourself to get somewhere to do something that sucks enough as it is. Why make it worse by being an ass behind the wheel?

Oh, and here’s the Mythbusters thing for your viewing pleasure.

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