The Virtue of the Turnout Lane

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Why can’t all states have turnout lanes?

Well, they can of course – but most don’t. Somehow, the simple solution of providing extra room on the shoulder of a two-lane road to let faster-moving cars safely and courteously get by slower-moving cars is not high on the To Do list of state highway authorities.

One of the few exceptions is rural Texas – where most secondary roads have turnouts – and (even better) it’s an embedded part of the driving culture to use them for their designed purpose. When you come up on a car – or pick-up full of hay – that’s dawdling along at 15 MPH below the posted limit, it’s not necessary to peer eagle-eyed into the distance, waiting for an opportune moment to risk a fly-by (and hope you make it before that oncoming semi closes the distance).

Instead, the driver of the slow-moving vehicle will actually look into his rearview mirror, notice you are there – and pull off to the side at the first turnout to let you get by. This is usually accompanied by a friendly wave – given and returned, a gesture of road-trip goodwill.

If this became standard practice across the land, driving would be a lot less stressful. And a lot safer, too.

Attempting a conventional pass – even where perfectly legal – can be scary. You’ve got to judge the time, distance and how quickly your machine can make the jump. Some drivers have a better sense of this than others. Sometimes, you’re the second or third car in line behind a Slo Mo. The two drivers ahead of you are only marginally more skilled than the head Slow Mo at the front of the conga line. 

Even if you’re a great driver in a fast car, when you’re stuck behind a not-so-skilled one up ahead who needs a half-mile of free and clear before he’ll even think about making the attempt, getting around the dawdlers can be a challenge. The fingers drum, the blood pressure rises – until finally, there’s an opening. You punch it and attempt a full-fury pass of both the cars immediately ahead as well as the head Slow Mo.

If only the Slow Mo had just pulled off into the turnout… .

If only there was a turnout!

Even when it’s not quite so extreme, most passing maneuvers on secondary roads require temporarily violating the posted maximum speed limit – at least, to execute the move safely. If you’re doing 55 and the car impeding you is doing 50, a “legal” pass is going to take much longer than the space you’ve got to work with. So, of course, you floor it and run up to 70 or so in order to get by. The pass attempt is much safer – but you’ve run the risk of getting a piece of payin’ paper instead. If there’s a cop around, you’ll get the ticket. Not the Slow Mo who’s impeding the flow of traffic – even though this is also illegal.

It’s just almost never enforced. 

None of this is any good. And the problem could be solved if turnouts were built into the shoulder of every major road – and people were drilled to use them, as they are In Texas.

That – and using the rearview mirror for something other than squeezing a zit or checking out run-amok nose hairs – would do more for enhancing road safety than all the sobriety checkpoints, seat belt harrasment campaigns and “Smooth Operator” speed enforcement dragnets combined.

But it’ll never happen – because there’s no money in it.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. I had to look up what these were. I grew up in the Midwest in areas with mostly four-lane roads with only very short stretches of paved two-lane roads. The vast majority of two-lane roads were normally gravel mfarm to market roads where trailing a combine, road grader, or back-hoe wasn’t all that uncommon.

    Even so, unlike roads I’ve encountered elsewhere, there were always generous shoulders where the tractor driver would pull toward to make your passing easier.

    This seems like a good idea just the same though. Especially in rural Florida where shoulders seem unheard of and ditches are deep and sometimes have gators.

  2. One thing I left out with the snow story is that cars were backed up going the other direction on the interstate for about 5 miles when I drove past waiting for one accident to be cleaned up. I do not think those people are very happy. There were also other areas where there was one lane tied up with emergency vehicles.

  3. Sounds like Eric needs to do something about his road rage.

    Yes states will provide you with turnout lanes if you are willing to donate to pay for it. I guess you have not heard that many states are broke. I have seen many turnout lanes but only on major roads and where they are really needed and are always on hills from what I have seen. They were started to allow trucks to pull over because they do not have the power to keep up to the speed limit going up a steep hill with a load. It still sounds like you need to move. If you live so far away from everything that you need to break all laws to get to your destination then you have a problem.

    I was on the highway a lot today. 400 miles worth. I did not seem to need to speed to get there. Coming back home on a two lane road there was a double yellow line between the lanes because of lack of visibility on a hill. I was thinking that I hope there is not someone coming from the other way that needs to cross that line and come at me at 60 to 70 mph head on.

    There was also snow the last 50 miles of the trip on the interstate. I have never seen so many fire trucks and ambulances on the road in my life. There were cars in the ditch, cars pointing the wrong way on a bridge and many smashed up cars. I was thinking what idiots they are when the snow started the cars kept on speeding! Later when there were cars in the ditch there still were cars that had to drive 10 to 15 mph faster than anyone else. There are many stupid drivers on the roadway.

    • States aren’t broke – they’re just spending money on other things, many of them disgustingly wasteful (such as the army of Useless Eaters in the employ of various state bureaucracies).

      Two, they were awash in cash as recently as three years ago.

      Three, people like you just don’t get it. Slow Pokes and left lane hogs are everywhere. That you don’t see them is the surest evidence that you’re one of them. And I would bet the farm you’re one of those ass clowns who doesn’t use his mirrors or just doesn’t care that other cars are stacked up behind you. After all, you’re doing the speed limit! They’re driving unsafely – and full of rage! They can slow down and wait to get where they’re going at your pace. If they’re 15 minutes late, that’s tough nuts! It gives you a thrill to be able to passive-aggressively assert yourself for once – by interfering with others.

      Typical Zombie who has no initiative – and resents those who do. Who worships any law simply because it’s the law. Who wants to chain everyone to the least able, the least competent.

      No wonder the country’s circling the drain…

      Obey! Submit!


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