Driving in Heavy Traffic – What Lane is Fastest


You’ve just left Wilmington, and you’re on 95 south. The highway is crawling. You see a Bus pass you on the slow lane while driving in the heavy traffic. You must catch up with the truck, so you consider the fast lane because it’s moving faster. You finally see a gap in the cars, and you merge in. Excellent now you’ll catch up with that darn bus. Wrong! Your new lane becomes slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter, and the bus is nowhere in sight. AArrrgg! Losing time like this is irritating. We hope to give you some options on how to approach this problem while driving in heavy traffic.

When the speeds slow down, and traffic begins to jam up, which lane should you choose if you want to beat the jam? Many factors impact lane speed when driving in heavy traffic. Here’s a list:

  • Is it a car that needs simple tire service or is it on fire.
  • What type of accident? (Fire, spill, fender bender)
  • What lane is blocked?
  • How many exits are there between you and the bottleneck?
  • How many lanes are there?

We’ve done our best to pin down the a few theories to get there faster during bumper to bumper traffic.

Theory One: The Far Right Lane Is Fastest

The first theory is that the far right lane (normally the slowest) moves fastest when driving in heavy traffic. The theory is that psychologically, drivers move to the left when they want to speed up. In a traffic jam, everyone wants to speed up, so more of the cars move to the left, leaving the right-most lane a little emptier. Combine that with traffic that exits the highway from the right lane and you have some openings that translate into valuable speed on the highway. When lanes of traffic are added to a highway, they are often added on the right as well which means the right lane of traffic will be the first to see faster speeds due to extra driving room. Of course, traffic also enters the highway from the right lane so that can slow the right lane down. If you’re a fan of changing lanes, you may want to alternate between the right most lane and the next lane over, moving to the rightmost lane before exits and moving out of it before entrances. (Of course most of the experts heartily recommend that you don’t change lanes in traffic jams.)

Theory Two: Middle (lane adjacent to far left lane) lane is Fastest

The next popular theory states the lane just to the right of the left-most lane moves the fastest in a traffic jam. The aggressive drivers tend to move to the left leaving space in the lane just to the right of that lane. This lane sees fewer slowdowns from cars entering the highway and may move along at a slightly more consistent speed than the start and stop motion bursts of the lanes further right.

Theory Three: Far Left Get In Get Out (opinion)

I spent three years commuting to work (120 miles a day) to Yardley PA via the Blue Route. The experience was less than fun, but it did teach me a few things about driving in heavy traffic on a two and three lane highways. I observed over time a rhythmic ebb and flow to lane movement. One lane will travel a constant clip for 200 yards (estimated) and then stop while the other lane moves the same distance. I started by merging into the far left lane. When that lane slowed, I would quickly merge back to the right or center lane. I would time the motion of both lanes. This technique is dependent on your ability to merge into other lanes. It’s not easy, but the payoff is a faster arrival time.

Below is a interesting video from Myth Busters that seems to validate my theory. The only issue on 100% validation is that the experimentation does not seem to be executed during driving in heavy traffic or bumper to bumper traffic.

I agree with their statement that weaving is dangerous and will turn your hair gray so we recommend you avoid it.

A Must Have Tool When Driving in Heavy Traffic – Waze

The Waze mobile app is super useful in heavy traffic. Below explains why.

  • Other Waze users can report on the accident as they approach it. They can even report with photos. It’s better than radio traffic reports.
  • You can communicate with other Waze users while stuck in traffic. You can ask them where the cops are there. Ask users what lane is blocked.
  • Waze will help you circumvent the traffic by suggesting a fast alternate route. Take any Exit with no worry about getting lost. Waze will guide you home.

Download Waze

More Information On This Topic

Have you tried these techniques when driving in heavy traffic? If not, what has worked for you? Reply and let us know.


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