AutosCould Germany's 20-second rule be the solution to the global traffic flow issues?

Could Germany's 20‑second rule be the solution to the global traffic flow issues?

Driving on the highway
Driving on the highway
Images source: © WP | Tomasz Budzik
1:49 PM EST, January 24, 2024

You're on a highway or an expressway, adhering to the maximum permitted speed (that's why you chose this route), then you encounter a noticeably slow vehicle that obstinately occupies the left lane. No indication suggests that the driver is attempting to overtake - they might be satisfying a selfish whim, lacking driving experience, or any other obscure reason. A driver like this forces others to brake, reducing traffic fluidity.

In these instances, impatient and discourteous drivers might flash their lights or even honk their horns, which is inappropriate. A desire to travel at the maximum permissible speed does not justify road aggression, not even possessing a car that can quickly attain such speeds. In some countries, overtaking on the right in such scenarios is permissible, but necessitates slowing down and ensuring the slower vehicle does not decide to change lanes.

Contrarily, in Germany, overtaking on the right is prohibited. But besides adhering to the fundamental rule of driving in the right-hand lane, a 20-second rule applies. Established over 30 years ago through a court verdict, this norm stipulates how long you can traverse the left or middle lane if you're not currently overtaking. Meaning, if it's feasible to stay in the right lane for over 20 seconds, you should utilise it.

As a result, drivers who are overtaking, for instance, a line of trucks or slow-moving cars, and know the expected duration of the maneuver, don't need to frequently switch back to the right lane, just to re-transition to the middle or left shortly after. This makes driving easier for those not maintaining the maximum permissible speed, but are faster than, for example, trucks. Consequently, traffic flows smoother and lanes are utilized more efficiently.

In Germany, unjustified middle-lane use and traffic obstruction warrant an 80-euro fine (approximately $93) and one penalty point. Yet, ignoring the right lane is permissible in significant slowdowns and heavy traffic.

Despite these regulations, instances do occur on German highways where drivers stubbornly cling to, for instance, the middle lane because it suits them. However, emulating the drivers who understand and adopt the 20-second rule is worthwhile, even if the country has considerably fewer three-lane roads than Germany and legally allows overtaking on the right. This could potentially enhance traffic flow significantly.

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