I was driving on I-80 in Iowa, a thing I am slowly coming to realize I will be doing a lot of. It’s not an interesting drive, but oh well. In this instance, I had the cruise set to around 80, which is more or less with the flow of traffic. It was around 8:30 in the evening, which means the sun had just gone down, which means about 2/3 of traffic had figured out to put their headlights on. I was starting down one of the bajillion and five gentle rolling hills that define this starch of highway, and up ahead of me, almost to the bottom of the hill, a milk tanker decided he wanted to pass the truck in front of him. This was one of those jobs where the truck in front was doing 65, and the milk tanker was doing 65 3/4. So the milk tanker pulls out, in no way close enough to be considered cutting me off, and I gently brake from 80 to 65. So far, no big deal.
Jump ahead three minutes. The cab door of the milk truck has just drawn even with the trailer wheels on the other semi’s trailer. Cars are now lined up behind me, none of them happy at having to slow down so much, and all of us realizing that we’re going to be here a while. I try not be be an aggressive driver, but this sort of blatantly inconsiderate driving by so-called professional drivers is one of the biggest pet peeves I have. So I moved slightly left to position my tires on the shoulder stripe and gave two quick flashes of the little mini-suns that BMW has deemed necessary to fit to a passenger vehicle.
This is where I always lose some people. To many, flashing your high-beams at a slower driver is a sign of road rage, like flipping the bird or brake-checking. They say it’s an escalating move and accomplishes nothing other than to anger the other party. So what did the tanker driver do? Brake-check me? Continue to block me for as long as possible? Brandish a gun? Nope. As soon as I flashed the lights, a little puff of smoke emitted from the twin stacks of the Kenworth, he sped up, and within 20 seconds he completed the remainder of the pass and was back in the right lane. I resumed my cruise control, blinked the hazards as a “thank you” when I passed him, and that was that. Exactly how it’s supposed to work.
Most people assume that flashing your high beams at a left-lane blocker does nothing at best, and at worst will generate some retaliation from the slower driver. I find that, in at least 60% of the cases where I use it, it works as intended. 35% of the time the driver will remain clueless, and in 5% of cases the driver will either do a tiny “brake check” that’s just enough to light up the brake lights, or flash their brights back at me when I pass. That’s it. Part of the reason for this is that I only do it on the open highway, never in the city. I avoid accompanying the flashing with tailgating (that clip with the Corolla is even closer that I would normally get), and I only do two or three flashes, never a lot of them or just leaving the high beams on. Once again, many people may say that the risks here outweigh the rewards, but as that silly video explained, people dawdling in the left lane causes traffic problems. Sometime’s its just a matter of gentle getting their attention to make them move over. I’m not trying to convince you to start doing what I do if you’re uncomfortable with doing it. But I am pleading that you start to look at the flash-to-pass more like you look at a horn. Yes, people honk their horns a lot during road rage, but that doesn’t mean somebody is raging at you every time they honk. It’s all about how you do it. The same goes for the brights. When used resposibly, it’s just another way of communicating with other drivers. In my book, communication on the road is a big part of smoother and safer traffic.