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Why Do People Speed Up As You Pass Them?

You know how it works.  You’re driving along in the left lane at some reasonable speed – OK, it’s usually above the posted limit – and you get stuck behind someone driving more slowly than you are (usually in a Subaru, but frequently in a Volvo).  You pray they realize that you’re about to scrape the chrome off their bumper with yours or are blinded by your headlights causing them to pull over.  Usually, this takes forever, but eventually, most drivers get the message and move to a slower lane.  Then, as you’re passing them, they speed up.  WTF?

Sometimes they increase their speed just to match your speed, sometimes they actually end up going faster than you.  But in all cases, they are going way faster than they were when you got stuck behind them.  Once you get sick of this little cat and mouse game, you speed up even more to get the whack-job further behind you.  It’s then you realize that they are imploding into a spec in your rear view mirror – once you were by them, they returned to their initial plodding velocity.

I can’t be sure, but I suspect I might do this unconsciously as well.  Or, at least, some slightly less insane version of it.  What in human psychology causes this to happen?

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 February 2nd, 2009  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 38 Comments

38 Responses to Why Do People Speed Up As You Pass Them?

  1. This is due to the “tractor beam effect”. Most vehicles emit a tractor beam that pulls other vehicles toward them. It explains why most cars slow down slightly as you pull up behind them, as their and your tractor beams suck the momentum of the vehicle in front and transfer it to the vehicle behind.

    The tractor beam is of limited strength and reach though. The limited strength causes it to have little effect on large trucks. Or in the event you are passing in an adjacent lane, if the speed differential is more than about 10 MPH, you will pass through the zone of it’s influence on the other car, before the beam has had a chance to accelerate the car up to your speed. It is not unlike pulling a table cloth off of a set table, do it slowly and all the plates will move with the table cloth, do it quickly and the plates and glasses don’t even know what happened.

    This is why I suggest you perform the passing maneuver with substantial alacrity, in order to limit the “locking up” of the tractor beams between the passor and passee.

  2. This is due to the “tractor beam effect”. Most vehicles emit a tractor beam that pulls other vehicles toward them. It explains why most cars slow down slightly as you pull up behind them, as their and your tractor beams suck the momentum of the vehicle in front and transfer it to the vehicle behind.

    The tractor beam is of limited strength and reach though. The limited strength causes it to have little effect on large trucks. Or in the event you are passing in an adjacent lane, if the speed differential is more than about 10 MPH, you will pass through the zone of it’s influence on the other car, before the beam has had a chance to accelerate the car up to your speed. It is not unlike pulling a table cloth off of a set table, do it slowly and all the plates will move with the table cloth, do it quickly and the plates and glasses don’t even know what happened.

    This is why I suggest you perform the passing maneuver with substantial alacrity, in order to limit the “locking up” of the tractor beams between the passor and passee.

  3. Lol to the above ^

    I won’t be in the ‘fast lane’ if I’m not gunning it. But on the normal roads this is a kiwi philosophy also.

    The only thing that makes me want to (or actually) speed up when myself and a following vehicle come to a passing lane is if said vehicle has been a prick by following too close or being stupid on the road.

  4. Lol to the above ^

    I won’t be in the ‘fast lane’ if I’m not gunning it. But on the normal roads this is a kiwi philosophy also.

    The only thing that makes me want to (or actually) speed up when myself and a following vehicle come to a passing lane is if said vehicle has been a prick by following too close or being stupid on the road.

  5. Hey Sarah,

    I totally agree. Generally speaking, the way I handle most situations on the road depends on how the other driver has been acting. Sometimes, this escalates into a vehicular pissing contest, but because drivers here in the states are so awful, it’s generally not a problem 🙂

  6. Hey Sarah,

    I totally agree. Generally speaking, the way I handle most situations on the road depends on how the other driver has been acting. Sometimes, this escalates into a vehicular pissing contest, but because drivers here in the states are so awful, it’s generally not a problem 🙂

  7. Nice looking blog. Which template are you using? Nice post as well!

  8. You dont own the road people. If you are in the fast lane & you look into your rear view mirror and another vehicle is close to you that means get out of the way pull over to the slower lane. You are a hazard by driving slower than the person behind you. You should never cruise in the fast lane. What are you thinking peoiple? And doing it based on how he was driving that is just stupid. Grow up and stop playing games.

    • Thanks for the comment, Shane! When people park themselves in the left lane, I wonder if it’s just indicative of the horrible driver training in the US, the driver’s total ignorance of what is going on around them, or is the driver just being an asshole. I actually think the last one is a rarity and the first two are in a contest for the leading excuse. Not that there should be an excuse, of course. 

      I’ve gotten to thinking about it this way – which is not one bit healthy for me – what *right* does the person blocking me have to delay me and take up my time and energy. They are taking something from me and that shouldn’t be tolerated. OK, maybe I’m not all that serious about it, but I do let that thought pass through my head for a fleeting second while I flash them or pass in the right lane.

      • Bar none, you are simply a douche for wanting to pass someone who is going to speed limit. You think that your immature ass has a right to pass someone going the limit because you think they’re “taking from you?” Frankly, I salute them for taking from you. By passing to go beyond the speed limit, you are taking from me and every driver on the road by taking away our safety (and your own). You have no right to do this under any law or moral code.

        • So glad there are self-righteous a**h***s like yourself that appoint themselves the official”hall monitors” of the highway. Anyone who isn’t going the exact posted limit (or at least as slow as you) is a “douche?” And for that reason you plant yourself in the fast lane and speed up when others try to pass? And that behavior is somehow going to keep the roads more safe? I don’t condone road rage. But seriously – that ignorant, shallow thinking will end up with someone beating your self-righteous *ss to a pulp. And I must say, when that day comes, it will be completely justified.

          • No its simple douche face, maintain a speed that is close to what everyone is doing. Dont park your fat ass in the fast lane and decide to shut it down to 40 MPH. If your gonna drive in the big boys lane then you better have your spider man undies on.

          • Uh…. Shane… I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that you replied to a post in error – because my post is obviously not defending those who ‘park their ass in the left lane.’ My post was in response to Louie – who obviously is a douche…

            That said, I won’t give you a hostile reply…..

          • Sorry Roger my mistake I clearly picked the wrong person to reply to. I read your post and I totally agree with you. Sorry for the screw up and thanks for letting me know.

        • Guess what dipstick, it is the law to keep right except to pass just as much as it is to obey the speed limit. But have fun trying to control other people any way you can. You are really powerful.

        • Your wrong I do have a right. If you cant peddle past the speed limit then you are a danger. Move all the over 60 and stupid people to the slow lane and pass a new law to keep them there.

        • Are you Mormon?

      • you tailgating people because theyre going slower than you in the faster lane is YOU BEING AN IDIOT so what if theyre driving the speed limit in the left lane?..tailgating and then going faster just to pass them??? — CAUSES ACCIDENTS!!! and you think its normal driving…..and whats even more sad is that its people like you who CAUSE accidents and you dont even know it….

        • No, goofballs like you that trap everyone behind you, day in and day out, day after day after day, until they can’t take it anymore, freak out and do something stupid when they reach their boiling point cause accidents.

          • what you say makes no sense, i see dumbasses like you get into accidents ALL the time as for me? ACCIDENT FREE….

  9. Good one Will. It looks like its a world wide affliction because we have the same problem here in Australia. You catch up to someone even on a dual carriage way, and not necessarily even going close to the speed limit, put the blinker on to overtake and then you find that their speed increases also….you accelerate a bit more…and so do they… I dont know why but maybe the other driver soon realises that they were going too slow and decide to speed up…who knows…but it is annoying…and even worse if they are in the fast lane.

    • I guess bad driving doesn’t have a nationality 🙂 What’s scary is that your explanation is probably right – they’re just not paying attention.

      Tanks for the comment!

  10. I think its because people are like dogs, we always want to be in a pack. Most people can’t stand to be alone so they’ll drive slow until they get a driving mate. When that mate passes, they speed up because we are afraid of being alone. You can always tell if a person is a leader or follower just by their driving habbits

  11. I hate when people do that. I live in California, and people from other states complain about how rude and selfish Californian drivers are. Ok…so I do suffer from a lead foot, a few times I had to drive fast for family emergency(too much detail, “personal”.) Anyways I notice when I drive a nice car(my Beemer) I tend to have more problems with people on the road. The go like 60 to 70 mph on the left lane, which is considered slow in CA. Usually the average speed is 80 on the left lane. So when I go into the number 2 lane, they speed up and make their gap closer. I have to say people who drive pick up trucks and SUVs are the most selfish drivers.This happened to me the other day, I was trying to pass a stupid 4 Runner and a Tundra, but of course they have to play their silly game and tighten up the gap, and i always get stuck behind them. I did manage to pass the 4 Runner and went in front of him and then he got mad went to the number 2 lane and blocked me in for a while. Then he took an exit, and I went back to the number 2 lane slow down and took some deep breaths, so I won’t have to deal with the dick heads on the number one lane. Also one of my class mate’s dad had the same thing happened to him……after a while he found a big gap, floored the gas pedal and passed all the dick heads and once he saw a truck on the number 2 lane, he slowed down and drove parallel to the truck for like 5 to 10 minutes and eventually he took off again.

    • the fact that youre trying to pass someone on the road who doesnt want to be passed makes you a jerk….and the person driving the SUVs are jerks…why cant you see that youre the asshole too? because you are…i see idiots like you on the road all the time — here’s you — “oh hes going slower than me, im gonna pass him..oh he doenst wanna be passed….well we’ll see about that” ——— JERK SYNDROME

      • you cannot “not want to be passed”. unbelievable. and if you speed up to match the passer, he is going to be stuck on the passing lane. he is doing other drivers a courtesy by passing you so he can get back on the slow lane.

        • That’s exactly right. Thanks for the comment drvr. So many people ignore the law for “slower traffic to keep right.” This is completely separate from the speed limit. The Uniform Vehicle Code states:

          Upon all roadways any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic …

          Note that this law refers to the “normal” speed of traffic, not the “legal” speed of traffic. The 60 MPH driver in a 55 MPH zone where everybody else is going 65 MPH must move right.

          See: http://www.mit.edu/~jfc/right.html

      • Better Driver

        YOU sir are a moron. If you don’t want to be passed then drive like a normal person! It’s unfortunate people like this are allowed to get in the car and endanger others. Hopefully you end up flipping off the side of the highway in a fiery crash. Alone of course and away from other good drivers.

      • ppl wouldn’t have to insult you if you just drive a bit above the speed limit and let others pass you. if they’re passing you arrogantly while you’re doing the speed limit, they got the problem – not you.

  12. YOU, yes you and any other “subaru” drivers have jerk syndrome on the road…..if someone is in front of you going slower in the faster lane, number one why are you tailgating them?…thats not normal driving…thats called a being a jerk..just move to the other lane and call it a day…number two why would you make a point to pass them as you get in the other lane?..its not that serious….thats how ACCIDENTS HAPPEN…..

    so many people like you and the “subaru driver” BOTH have slight road rage and you dont even know it….smh…and i see it all the time.. a lot of people drive like you and you think its normal and thats the sad part…ive never gotten into an accident or a ticket of any kind and ive driving for about 12 years because i avoid jerks like you on the road because i just “let the baby have his/her bottle”

  13. You are incorrect. It is subarus and priuses that do it most;). They do it because they are sheep and want to mimic what everyone else is doing. They have no clue about maintaining a constant speed. They also don’t care if they are holding back 90 other people’s lives by clogging the left lane.

  14. As for why they are driving slow in the passing lane – maybe they need to turn left and they can’t find the road (the non GPS users). I was shocked that didn’t come up yet.

  15. Officer Jacobs

    It’s because there assholes are bigger then your front bumper and to prevent your bumper. If you try to pass them and they speed up it means they would rather get fucked by your bumper then move over like the law says your to do!
    Doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are going when another car is on your ass get the fuck out of the way and quit acting like you own the road! Maybe the car behind you is in an emergency to get to the hospital…wife might be having a baby… Doesn’t matter if your going slower move over!

  16. When I’m driving 80mph in my Subaru in the left lane to pass the guy driving 50 in the right lane and you fly up my backbumperass at 90 and get PO’d b/c I don’t get to the right fast enough for your impatient self then hmmmm, me and my Subaru might just block you for a few seconds. Sorry.

    • And me and my Subaru would appreciate it if you don’t come within two inches of clipping my back then front bumper as you jerk your car to the right lane and squeeze in and then jerk your car into the left lane and squeeze past me as close as your pissy self can.

  17. WILL said it perfectly by quoting the Uniform Code on this matter in his post of January 12, 2014. The right lane is for slower or cruising speed traffic (I will not define here what ‘slower’ or ‘cruising speed’ traffic is because it is not the issue save to say that you are guilty of at least two traffic violations and could go to jail if you accelerate in the right lane to keep even with or accelerate to stay ahead of a passer currently in the left lane beside you). The left lane is for passing right lane cruising vehicles in a timely manner. Defining timely manner is probably where most of us ‘lock horns’ or differ in opinions. I think taking 10-15 seconds or less is reasonable to pass even an extra long semi or tractor trailer rig, but that’s just me. Let me say it again, if you are not exiting or turning right, you stay in the right lane at all times unless you are passing someone, and when you pass do that timely, do it quickly. I suppose people who are driving too slow in any lane have simply slipped into a ‘wandering mind’ or contemplative state of thought as they routinely cruise down the interstate or other long range highway, losing cognicence and response. This is not good. Driving is an activity governed by laws of commerce and travel. The law requires you to be well rested, alert, and to have a purpose or timely destination goal and plan of traveling in a motor vehicle from point A to point B, and to C, D, E, and so on. Not paying attention to the duties involved in driving correctly, succinctly, and responsibly will sooner or later put you in violation of these laws and even endanger other citizens on the highways. People who are guilty of this should be ticketed regularly and even jailed. You are a menace to society and deserve to be locked up, for good if you continue in this vein. In a vigilante setting, or post apocalyptic primitive world, I dare say your car would probably be smashed off the road, destroyed, and burned, possibly with you in it. In conclusion, wake up or stay awake when you use a motor vehicle in the world where the rest of us responsible people are, and always drive responsibly obeying all traffic laws. A different topic or pet peeve of mine is these same irresponsible people often times negligently gravitating to causing traffic accidents which totally clog the interstates and federal highways, sometimes for miles delaying thousands of responsible citizens causing vital delays in commerce and in personal lives. Understandable that a mechanical problem on a well maintained car might arise causing a driver to exit to the shoulder out of the way or hitting some under maintained portion of the pavement creating a flat tire or damaged rim sending him out of traffics way, but those who drive poorly as mentioned above, and simply cause an accident because of lack of attention and care, should have their licenses taken away after at least the third accident they cause, the second if I have my way. They are a menace to society, no better than high crime perpetrators to me. How many people have missed seeing a loved one off at the airport or even missed their own flights because of these people, or missed catching a girl/guy friend for a life proposal, or been late for a crucial morning at work, or even missed some event that would have changed history in some cataclysmic way, all because some idiot didn’t pay attention driving one day and delayed thousands to a ‘ripple effect’ in time. This is my thought to pose. Perhaps no one cares. We’ll see.