Which lane today?

A guest post by Andrew Morse, our senior traffic engineer.

A question was posted on a Linkedin group recently
asking “does the ‘Keep Right Unless Overtaking’ rule still apply in the
This got me thinking about the
situation in Australia, where like other countries that drive on the sensible
side of the road, the rule applies to the left lanes.

According to Australia Road Rule 130, drivers are
required to keep to the left of a multi-lane road where vehicle speeds are
80kph or over and where ‘Keep Left Unless Overtaking’ signs apply to a length
of road. Seems straight forward enough and those who have read the signs will
notice that there is a fine applicable for drivers caught breaking this rule.

This is all fine, until you observe the motorways in New
South Wales and realise that not only is the rule not enforced, it seems that
most of us are totally unaware of its existence.  Not wishing to lump the blame entirely on us
drivers, it is apparent that there are other factors at play which influence
driver behaviour on our motorways.  For
example, the motorways in and around Sydney, which aren’t really motorways, but
a connected network of dual carriageways, are constrained by the urban
surroundings leading to quite narrow lanes widths and some fairly tight
geometry.  There are multiple entries and
exits on both sides of each carriageway, interchanges which only allow certain
movements and very few opportunities for a U-turn movement back on to the
Add to this that many of the
lanes become directional lanes (eg the Gore Hill system approaching the Harbour
Bridge and Tunnel) and applying a ‘Keep Left’ rule becomes almost impossible.

I don’t have any data to indicate whether a motorway
is safer or more efficient if the rule is or isn’t applied.  However, what a road authority must ensure is
that it adopts one or the other rather than the situation in NSW where the road
rule exists, the signs are in place, but nobody takes any notice.  What this leads to is a set of drivers who
are unaware or ambivalent about the rule and those who are aware of the rule
being frustrated by the blocking of all lanes by drivers not overtaking.

As a professional Traffic Engineer, I do not in any
way condone speeding on any part of the road network; however it is not up to a
driver to enforce the speed limit on others. 
If there is no obstruction in the left lane, why not use it?  An example of this is the Eastern Distributor
entry ramp from General Holmes Drive (if travelling from the airport to the
city), I would estimate that 90% of vehicles joining the motorway move
immediately to the centre and right lanes leaving the left lane empty. 
You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to
work out that if only two lanes of three are used, this is not an efficient use
of our roads.

It is apparent that when it comes to motorway driving,
driver training is extremely important. 
What we need to understand is that driving over 80kph changes our
perception of distance and speed and I’m sure we’ve all seen videos
demonstrating how slow the human reactions really are at 110kph.  I would like to see a campaign in NSW to
increase driver skills on motorways and to apply a different attitude towards
motorway driving in comparison with the rest of the road network.  A review of motorway speed limits is required
to provide more consistency (the speed limit on Epping Road, an arterial road,
is 10kph higher than the adjacent M2 Motorway) and the Government is presently
undertaking a review of a number of routes. 
All that’s needed is a bit more common sense.

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