Which Lane on the Highway is the Safest?

Driving on a busy highway can be intimidating, especially for inexperienced drivers. Even those who drive daily may feel anxious when faced with high-speed traffic and multiple fast-moving traffic lanes. Most drivers automatically assume the slower-moving right lane of traffic is the safest option for traveling on a multi-lane highway, but is that always true? Data collected from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tells a different story. While the right lane may be safest in some circumstances, choosing the safest lane isn’t always that simple. Understanding the risks and benefits of each traffic lane on a multi-lane highway can help drivers make the best lane decisions while on the road.

Should I Always Choose the Right Lane Unless Passing?

Many drivers feel the most comfortable in the right lane of moving traffic on multi-lane divided highways. This lane has its benefits. Because the traffic generally moves slower in the right lane, if you’re comfortable driving at or slightly below the speed limit, the right lane is often the best option. Injuries tend to be less severe when accidents occur in right-lane traffic due to the slower speed. However, remaining in the right lane in busy urban areas may present more dangers than the middle or left lane due to frequent exit and entrance ramps and traffic merging into the right lane. Cars more frequently accelerate, slow down, and merge while traveling on the right. 

Studies show that more accidents occur in the right lane of traffic on the highway compared to the other lanes, however, injuries are often less severe. Data suggests choosing the right lane for safety in rural regions, but not in high-traffic areas with many entrance and exit ramps.

Is the Left Lane the Most Dangerous on a Multi-Lane Highway?

You may be surprised to learn that the left lane has fewer crashes on three-lane highways than the right and middle lanes. This is likely due to the fact that there’s less traffic in the left lane since it’s typically reserved for passing cars or high-speed traffic. However, while fewer accidents occur in the left lane of highways, the accidents that happen in this fast-moving lane result in more serious injuries. The crash force in an accident increases substantially at higher speeds, resulting in greater harm in a left-lane accident. The left lane also offers the least amount of driving space for maneuvering to avoid an accident.

Is The Middle Lane a Safe Compromise for Drivers?

Driving in the middle lane may seem like a safe alternative to the higher risk of accidents on the right and the lower risk of accidents, but higher risk of catastrophic injuries on the left. But the middle lane also has its set of risks and benefits. While accidents occur less often in the middle lane than in the right lane, they’re more common in the middle lane than in the left lane. One benefit of driving in the middle lane is the availability of space to maneuver on both sides to escape from possible accidents. However, middle-lane driving requires extra vigilance because there are lanes of moving traffic on both sides. The middle lane is only safest as long as you practice defense driving and remain alert to traffic on both sides.

Choosing the Best Lane on the Highway

The safest lane option may depend not only on the traffic situation in the place and time that you’re on the highway but also on your own defensive driving skills and where you feel the most comfortable with the speed of the traffic flow.

If you were in a vehicle accident, reach out to an Austin car accident attorney to discuss your case today.