Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Metering Lights, Slow-Lane Fast-Lane, Obstructions, Name Our Cop + More

January 27, 2014 14:21 pm · 44 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

COMMUTER: I have a question regarding those new merging stoplights onto the freeway. There is one on-ramp where I get on and then get off, never entering the freeway. As these lights are for regulating the freeway traffic, I think I should be allowed to disregard and just go through. What’s the law?

–Merging Freeway Signs

TRAFFIC JAMMER: MFS, the short answer is that you can’t go through. The Jammer is glad you asked the question, because there are probably many others in your situation. It is conscientious of you to be concerned. Now, our pal, Officer Daniel Hill of the California Highway Patrol, has kindly contributed some interesting detail about this law and how it operates, especially with regard to this situation:

“Regardless of the intentions of the motorist, it is always unlawful, and also a dangerous idea to disregard a traffic signal. Disobeying a traffic signal, regardless of the location, will carry with it the same (extremely large) fine and point value.

Though the traffic signal may appear to simply be metering traffic, it is also possible the signal is regulating other merging traffic or maintaining traffic flow on the off-ramp. More importantly, the majority of those signals are placed at locations where two or more lanes merge into one after the limit line. By disregarding this signal, the motorist runs the risk of causing a collision.

In any case, traffic signals that are serving as metering lights usually only cause a delay of no more than ten seconds to a motorist’s journey. By running the signal, you would only be saving a scant few seconds, and would be running the risk of delaying your journey because of a traffic stop, or even worse, a collision.

We encourage all motorists to obey the laws and drive safely. One person’s inconvenience is not reason enough to jeopardize other motorists’ safety.”

COMMUTER: Five days a week I drive to work from Benicia to a medical office off Highway 4, and five days a week I am almost driven to madness by the imbecilic drivers on my commute. Lumbering trucks going 35 mph on the upgrades and drivers behind them who don’t know enough to change lanes before it’s too late, and worst of all, drivers who must be on crack meandering along at 55 mph in the left lane.

–Drive Right, Stay Right

TRAFFIC JAMMER: DRSR, you’re touching on an issue that is a sore spot for many – slow drivers in the left lane, or, for that matter, drivers who take up residency there for long periods of time. It’s surprising how many people don’t know that in California, it is against the law to occupy that left lane, also known as the passing lane.

“Upon all highways, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway,” thus speaketh Section 21650 of the Vehicle Code.

Yes, you can actually get a ticket for hanging out interminably in the left lane. Of course, there are exceptions to this commandment, which are also set out in this section: Obviously, you’re allowed to leave the right-hand lane when passing another vehicle, making a left turn, and so forth.

It’s understandable that you would feel frustrated, especially if it happens every time you drive to work, DRSR. Is there a way you can vary your route, so you don’t have to deal with this every morning? Even if this consigns you to more surface streets than usual, at least it would change up the routine. The Jammer doesn’t know where you live in Benicia or where this doctor’s office is, but depending on those factors, you could possibly get on Interstate 780 eastbound instead of taking Interstate 80 to Highway 4, for example.

COMMUTER: What is the best way to handle an unexpected obstruction in the road – a box that fell off a truck or, God forbid, an animal? If you don’t have time to check the lane next to you, should you swerve and risk hitting a vehicle next to you, or suck it up and hit the item?

–Swerve or Stay?

TRAFFIC JAMMER: This is a brilliant question that will be useful to all of us, SOS, so thanks for asking. The Jammer turned to our resident Claycordian law enforcement officer, who supplied an answer that should help us all avoid this painful dilemma in the first place:

“OK, so the first rule of accident avoidance is pre-planning. You really shouldn’t have to check the lanes around you because you should have a sense of the vehicles around you.

Furthermore, if you are in traffic, you should have a plan. I call it the “what if game”. What if the car (in front or alongside me) has a wheel fall off? What if the car in front of me has a catastrophic mechanical failure that causes it to drop fluid and suddenly slow down? Where do I go? What do I do?

If you pre-plan, then you are less likely to panic because you’re already experienced the scenario or a similar one in your head.

I consulted with another professional driver on your question to see if my instincts were right. He drives a fuel tanker.

The consensus is don’t swerve. So much can happen if you serve and you don’t have training, that the jerking motion can throw off even the most savvy drivers.

Of course, there are so many variables in this question: What type and size is the road hazard? What type of roadway are you on? How fast are you going?

I know it’s generally safer (although disconcerting) to hit animals rather than swerve. [Let loose the deer and moose stories - for those who don't know, these animals are known to cause tremendous damage]. The unknown box and bags have inherent risks. So, generally, the advice is maintain your lane and prepare for impact.

From a law enforcement standpoint, there are guidelines for collision reporting. You generally won’t be found at fault for hitting an animal because they’re not supposed to be expected in the roadway. Again, depending on the circumstances, the same is true for debris. However, I can anticipate finding a driver at fault for swerving and colliding with or causing a chain-reaction of swerves and braking.

Again, I encourage slowing down.”

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Big thanks for this helpful answer! And while we’re on this topic – Claycordians, this officer, who answers the questions anonymously, is getting to be a regular contributor. Let’s figure out a nickname specifically for use in this column! For example, since he is a Law Enforcement Officer, we could call him “Leo.” Or, what would you suggest?

You all named this column by submitting suggestions from which the Jammer and our beloved Mayor selected the current name. Now, got any suggestions for a sobriquet for our helpful local Claycord officer? Just post in the comment box or send to by Saturday. The winning entry gets a transportation-oriented prize!

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to

1 TOB January 27, 2014 at 2:20 PM

California is the worst in regards to people regulating the left lane (passing lane) when they should move over. What it needs is a wake up call perhaps a month of awareness brought on by police citing those who do this. I know they are busy but unless they do, nothing changes and only encourages the me, me, me state. Should be done on areas with known grades and include local police/sheriff with areas like Lime ridge, Kirker Pass and other grades where people go slow with no intention of moving over or picking up their pace. California is all talk no action why State is such a mess. Police/CHP need to make the time and OR take the law off the books.

Can anyone on Claycord recall anyone ever pulled over for holding up traffic? Point being, law enforcement doesn’t even try, take that back to your contact. Ask him has he ever cited someone and how long ago, how often in his career has he? Best not to even discuss topic as nothing will change without public seeing they can be cited.

Let these California drivers try driving across country hogging that left lane see how far you get. Other states actually enforce it.

2 Dorothy January 27, 2014 at 2:36 PM

Leo works for me since you have said he is a him and not a she.

Is there any traffic law that can be applied to getting hydrants painted neon florescent red? They are knock down so often it almost seems like they should be included in traffic laws specifically.

3 RunnerDope January 27, 2014 at 2:42 PM

>> you could possibly get on Interstate 780 eastbound instead of taking Interstate 80 to Highway 4 …


What makes you think the drivers are any better on 780? The problem is the same everywhere as far as I can tell.

4 Janis Mara January 27, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Ahahahaha @RunnerDope #3 excellent point! Guess I lost my head! I was just trying to get this poor motorist off Highway 4, with whose drawbacks I am quite familiar. I don’t think I’ve driven 780 more than once or twice, if that. Sounds like you’re familiar with it?

5 RunnerDope January 27, 2014 at 2:53 PM


I posted a question last year about the repaving job on Cowell (between Babel and Coventry) and on Babel that left the manhole covers noticeably below the new surface of the road. I have since noticed that I am not alone in trying to avoid them. It’s so bad that my CDs skip in the player.

Did you ever mention it to any of your contacts?

6 ClayDen January 27, 2014 at 3:16 PM

I get frustrated by slow drivers in the left lane too. A quick flash of my lights sometimes helps to clue them that they are a moving roadblock, but often they appear to be oblivious and/or distracted, or they must think that they own the road. Is likely that I will end up having a discussion with one of our finest for flashing my lights?

Remember, if they got all of the bad drivers off the road, there would never be any traffic.

7 Antler January 27, 2014 at 3:42 PM

…….about hitting large animals in the road. Try REALLY hard not to do that because as a rule you’ll lose control of vehicle afterward….maybe hit a vehicle or run off the road (think “into a rock bank” or “off the mountain”). Also, some counties have the “Open Range Law”; and if you hit livestock in one of those counties, you are liable for the value of that animal and are supposed to go find the rancher and pay him for it. Does anyone know whether that applies if you hit a cow on the way up the road to Mount Diablo summit?

8 Sacto Rob January 27, 2014 at 3:44 PM

Our highways are so ridiculously over-capacity that it’s completely unrealistic to expect drivers to stay out of the fast lane by default. That’s just not going to happen. Drivers by nature tend to evenly fill out the lanes. Unless someone is dragging along in the fast lane slowing a everybody down, it’s really not a problem.
As far as whether to swerve or hit, you’re much better off swerving, provided the lane next to you is clear. Your car is built to instantly switch lanes safely even at freeway speeds, and it’s a very easy manuver to practice and master. It’s much safer to move your car into an empty lane that to crash into a large animal or unknown object in the roadway. Striking a cinder block or a carboarnd box full of books at freeway speeds will likely send you shooting off out of control across multiple lanes or through the center divide.

9 Antler January 27, 2014 at 3:49 PM

Name of new rock group:

“Jammin’ Janis and Point Man”

10 Cici January 27, 2014 at 4:11 PM

A green arrow traffic light needs to be installed on the corner of Bancroft and Banbury. You cannot see the uncoming cars when huge SUV’s block the view as you are turning left. People are driving too fast and there have been way too many accidents of late. It could possibly be the worst intersection in Walnut Creek as many think it is a freeway :(

11 RANDOM TASK January 27, 2014 at 4:17 PM

@6 yes sir ……get em off the road …….lost cause because the DMV is no longer interested in putting good drivers on the road …..they only care about fees more drivers more fees. As for left laners this is mostly the soccer moms with the huge SUV they can not drive …since they merge on and head over to the far left …WHY you ask because they can not use their right mirror properly and fear to merge with any oncoming vehicles. Until they want to exit and turn on their blinker and slow down traffic till they can move over. But again DMV allows drivers to not have to learn to merge and or be a smart driver and or safe for that matter. This is passed to the highway patrol and or city cops to use their own discretion ……as we see the bad drivers flow down hill and as long as the fees pour in no one cares.

12 @ TOB & Janis January 27, 2014 at 5:30 PM

UMMMM….has anyone ever heard of a SPEED LIMIT? If you’re going the posted speed limit, why should you have to move over to let those who want to break the law by speeding, fly on past you? It’s either the speed limit, or a free-for-all.

13 Cowellian January 27, 2014 at 6:11 PM

In California, driving the speed limit in the fast lane with the intent to keep others from speeding is considered to be a form of aggressive driving, and you can get points for it.

14 Anon January 27, 2014 at 7:21 PM

#2, Dorothy – Did you ever stop and think that *MAYBE* those hydrants are just located in a bad spot?
Sure, it’s fun to point fingers and make texting jokes when one driver hits one – But how many times does the same Hydrant need to be Hit before you admit……It’s in the wrong location?

15 crazytech58 January 27, 2014 at 9:51 PM

I drive 101 between bay area and pismo beach often, and drive in the left lane as much as possible, allowing cars that come up behind me to pass by moving over to right, then back to left lane….. BECAUSE the right lane is so rough…..beat up by the heavy trucks, the left lane is much smoother in several areas, AND you don’t have to be on high alert for the merging cars coming into the right lane….. think about it….. if EVERYBODY stays in the right lane except to pass…… the cars merging onto the freeway have more obstacles, everyone swerving and hitting their brakes….. I say leave the right lane vacant as much as possible

16 RunnerDope January 27, 2014 at 10:00 PM

>> But how many times does the same Hydrant need to be Hit before you admit……It’s in the wrong location?

That reminds me of an old bumper sticker, “If you don’t like the way I’m driving, stay off the sidewalk”.

17 Well.. January 27, 2014 at 10:41 PM

@ Anon # 14- I don’t think the hydrants that are located ON THE SIDEWALK are in the way of a driver. It is just stupidity on the part of the driver.

@ Crazytech58- I do the same thing when I drive I-5 to Vegas. I drive on the left, and merge right to let the faster drivers thru.

I very rarely use the left lane on our freeways. I will be in the one directly to the right ( #2 or #3?). I usually go about 5 over the speed limit. If someone comes up on my butt, I will not move. It is up to the person going faster than me to move to the left lane ( usually the commuter lane). I’m already speeding as it is. I am not going to start swerving lanes to make it easier for you.

18 Living in a bubble January 28, 2014 at 3:07 AM

How about “Lou Tennant” “Claycord Fuzz” “Jam Sandwich” or “Insane Desperado” personally Lou Tennant is my favorite!!

19 Just the Fax January 28, 2014 at 4:11 AM

The vehicle code is actually more open to interpretation then most people realize but the general consensus is that section 21650 of the vehicle code applies to using oncoming traffic lanes to pass slow vehicles on the left specifically on roadways that may not have dividing likes such as in more rural or residential areas. I do not believe there is a vehicle code section, at least in California, that regulates how long a vehicle can remain in the left most lane on the freeway. Janis, if you could, please confirm that with “Leo” so that we have the most accurate information.

20 Z-Man January 28, 2014 at 4:34 AM

@ TOB & Janis

I see more signs that state “Slower traffic keep right”

Leave the Law Enforcement, up to Law Enforcement. All you need to do is read the signs, just like you keep thinking regarding Speed Limit.

Putting your emotions into how you drive is a lot of reasoning behind aggressive driving. Let us pass.

21 Captain Freeway January 28, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Slow drivers is a relative term. I’ve been in the far left lane doing over the speed limit but with the flow of traffic and there is almost always some overly aggressive lane changing gap-shooter that wants to flash their high beams, tailgate and whip around people. Of course the aggressive driver is in the wrong and the more wrong they are the madder they get at your for calling them on it. If you’re the aggressive one – it’s you who has the problem, not everyone else. Of course there are also sometimes slow drivers in the far left lane but if they’re going with the flow of traffic, then YOU are the one with the problem, not everyone else. Good Luck on there, please be safe, watch out for the gap-shooters and please don’t be one. CF

22 ConcordDad January 28, 2014 at 8:30 AM

The signs say “Slower Traffic Keep Right”, not “Slower Traffic Keep Right Except When The Right Lane is Too Bumpy For You”. On long drives like I-5 or 101, I always keep right except to pass. Of course, the people dawdling along in the left lane on I-5 make it easy- I don’t even have to change lanes to pass them, although something feels wrong about passing on the right. So carry on, I guess.

23 Jose January 28, 2014 at 8:49 AM

@Cap’n Roadblock,

If you’re camped out in the left lane holding up traffic, then YOU are in the wrong, regardless of how fast you’re going. It’s not your job to regulate traffic. Leave it to the CHP. And check out 21753VC for starters.

24 Horse'n Around January 28, 2014 at 9:01 AM

How about officer 5, 0?

25 RunnerDope January 28, 2014 at 9:41 AM

“Upon all highways, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway,” thus speaketh Section 21650 of the Vehicle Code.

Doesn’t that mean that on 4-lane freeways (in one direction) that there are essentially two “fast lanes”? Yippee!

26 Janis Mara January 28, 2014 at 9:56 AM

Oh, @RunnerDope #25, what am I going to DO with you? :-)

@Just The Fax #25, I will share with “Leo.” He reads the column every day so he’s probably on it already.

So far we have Leo (endorsed by @Dorothy and @Just The Fax), Officer 5, 0 (from @Hors’n Around), “Lou Tennant” “Claycord Fuzz” “Jam Sandwich” or “Insane Desperado,” all courtesy of @Living In a Bubble.

These are all awesome suggestions, though clearly some are tongue-in-cheek, I loves them all! Looks like we have two votes for “Leo.” Does anyone else care to vote?

27 TOB January 28, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Blue Knight, Ponch, Cop or Copr (C)laycords (O)wn (P)olice rep. Barney?

“US. A quiet place for an officer to park their squad car and relax”

28 spinner January 28, 2014 at 12:18 PM

The speed limit on freeways in California
was 55 mph for years. I would be interested
in knowing if traffic accidents during that
period of time was significantantly reduced.
I believe it was set back up to 65 mph to move
people along to where they were going as
it became evident that as the population
increased, more people needed to be
moved along faster that 55mph would
accommodate. I felt a lot more secure on
freeways at 55mph. I’d rather come across
an unexpected item in the road at 55mph
also. Everyone is exceeding the speed limit
these days and the accidents exceeding
what is acceptable, as well.

29 Captain Freeway January 28, 2014 at 12:35 PM

@ Jose. I’m not one who camps out in the far left holding things up. Are you the one who flashes lights at people, tailgates, gap-shoots and such no matter how fast people are going even if over the speed limit and general flow of traffic? If it is you, most people will probably reward your bad behavior and let you continue on… and YES you will be caught eventually and cited. If you have an attitude about why your driving is okay maybe you’ll be arrested too. Good luck out there folks, drive safe, watch out for the Gap-Shooters and please don’t be one yourself. CF

30 Jose January 28, 2014 at 1:10 PM

You’re wrong, Cap’n. If somebody is loafing along at the speed limit in the left lane, holding up faster traffic and not passing anybody, THEY are in violation of the VC, whether or not the traffic they’re holding up would have been speeding.

It’s simple. Stay right, except to pass. And if someone comes up behind you flashing their lights, you move over to the right and let them pass. You have no idea what somebody’s emergency might be, and it’s not up to you to decide’s if it’s valid. We pay the CHP to do their job, so let them do it.

31 Jose January 28, 2014 at 1:12 PM

And FWIW, I drive in the right lane 90% of the time, and almost never in the left.

32 Horse'n Around January 28, 2014 at 2:09 PM

How about Claycord Cop?

33 TOB January 28, 2014 at 2:13 PM

Captain Freeway, Jose is very much correct. If you keep debating him, shows you are the problem unknowingly. As he said DOESN’T MATTER you’re doing speed limit.. 5 or more vehicles behind you, must yield to them. DMV has even included this in past registrations on occasion if you read the inserts.

So true what Jose said about not knowing if emergency or not and for you to decide or hold back or to comment and ENCOURAGE others to do so is out of line. Recently my GF snapped her leg in half skating while trying to get her to hospital people would regulate lanes and all I wanted to do was speed limit get to Deer Valley but someone decided to take time matching pace with right lane so she agonized longer. It was someone like you who felt need to police me. Had I had time I’d likely confronted him guess who would be at fault when police showed up (assuming didn’t beat the guy). Nothing worse than some idiot trying to police the roads. This is very much a pet peeve with police. Vigilante drivers.

Janis please have your “Friend” address Captain Freeway as I notice he is often stubborn and fails to listen when others disagree or have knowledge of law. Seems like a nice guy (guessing older semi retired or retired) but far from know it all on driving and he needs to hear real truth.

CF, Janis did post in older column this very issue Jose speaks of ( I personally brought the issue up for discussion).. Encourage you to search it or read up on law. Failing all that, if you can’t interpret it correctly, Janis and friends will confirm what we speak of. :)

34 Captain Freeway January 28, 2014 at 3:20 PM

@ Advocates and Excusers of Aggressive Driving: Please calm down. I never said anything like that it was okay to be “loafing” in the far left lane at the speed limit. Why not also address the wrongful aggressive drivers? Those who cut people off, gap-shoot, tailgate and flash their brights on people who don’t move over when there isn’t a place to do so due to heavy traffic or whatever or when the speed limit is already being exceeded by the flow of traffic. So, uhhh, everybody needs to endanger others by frantically flailing by moving over because someone wants to be pushy? That just rewards bad driving behavior. Oh yeah, everyone has an emergency or is doctor late for surgery. Ugh. I also am not advocating “policing” the roads in absence of law enforcement. Try addressing the issue from both sides…try that just for a moment OK and not just say that anyone and everyone in the left lane who is bullied by an aggressive driver is the problem. BTW, It doesn’t have to be just the left lane… aggressive drivers will bully people in other lanes too. Geez…

35 Jose January 28, 2014 at 3:55 PM


I did address the issue of aggressive, speeding drivers. I said to let the CHP handle them.

I, too, would be interested in hearing what “Leo” has to say on this subject.

36 Captain Freeway January 28, 2014 at 4:21 PM

Adding to my last and hopefully making this more clear to those in need– Driving slow in the left lane and holding up traffic is “Not Ok” Not letting someone pass you on purpose is “Not Ok”. Being an aggressive driver by tailgating, changing lanes excessively, gapshooting, cutting people off etc is “Not Ok”. Trying to police the roads by yourself is “Not Ok”. If you do any of these things in sight of law enforcement, you will likely be pulled over. If you think you can do these things legally and also give an attitude to the officer that pulls you over….you are going to have a really bad day. Got it? And its okay to say youre against aggressive drivers here in this forum. A few seemed to be defending it…”Not Ok” C.F.

37 Theresa January 28, 2014 at 4:37 PM

@ Captain Freeway—36

I totally agree. Unfortunately, not everybody is a good driver.

38 Jose January 28, 2014 at 6:05 PM

Well, Cap’n, when you said this:

” I’ve been in the far left lane doing over the speed limit but with the flow of traffic and there is almost always some overly aggressive lane changing gap-shooter that wants to flash their high beams, tailgate and whip around people. Of course the aggressive driver is in the wrong and the more wrong they are the madder they get at your for calling them on it.”

Pretty much any reasonable person would believe that you were driving in the left lane and not passing anybody. Also, that you wouldn’t let people by when they flashed their lights, and you took pleasure in them getting mad about it. Way to backpedal, though, now that you didn’t get the “Atta boy!” you were expecting.

39 Tango Delta January 28, 2014 at 7:33 PM

Wow … Blog rage over road rage.
Have an emergency? Call an ambulance
and let the professionals exceed the speed
limit. Otherwise, observe the speed limit …
left lane or not.

40 Captain Freeway January 28, 2014 at 7:59 PM

Geez…not much hope for you Jose — Bye!!

41 Jose January 28, 2014 at 9:11 PM

Kisses, Cap’n!

42 J. January 28, 2014 at 10:36 PM

LEO’s nickname should be: Donut Speed

43 TOB January 29, 2014 at 10:04 AM

Tango I guess you mean me and you apparently didn’t read it right. I wanted to go the speed limit when someone chose take time and purposely paced with the car in right lane leaving me NO options. How about you pay that ambulance bill there little guy! Wasn’t a heart attack but a fracture. ;)

I can appreciate not liking gap shooters people speeding, not the issue. I don’t condone that either.. That’s just aggressive driving. Where CF redirected all this nothing to do with the law.. What’s at issue here is this (keep it simple stop reading in); We all have seen it, person purposely taking time in left lane refusing to move over when they can and nothing in front of them causing traffic to build up behind them holding everyone up. This is more so on Highways/grades than commute traffic although are at times and situations this applies too and will explain.

Best way to give visual.. Other day trucker tried to pass another trucker going up Kirker pass with heavy load. 5mph. Did he really need to pull out back traffic down to Concord Ave while everyone waited for him to pass which he couldn’t until over grade going a snails pace. Got passed by bicyclist going up hill for Petes sake… Ever drive a grade (Sierra’s good example) and passing lane ahead but person doesn’t move and cars piling up behind them because the slower traffic did move BUT the ONE idiot driver chose not to so you can’t pass.. Nobody is speeding here, just slow driver hogging the left lane even when they have a pull out/passing area.. This is/was the intent of the law. Somehow degraded to reflect commutes.. Not about “a” car behind you in wanting to go faster, but a bunch and person failing to move over when they have ability to do so. Not rocket science. :/

Jose let’s go have a beer while they soak this up. Some take longer to get it so this might take a while. LOL ;)

44 nytemuvr January 29, 2014 at 10:53 AM

@TOB #1
“Let these California drivers try driving across country hogging that left lane see how far you get. Other states actually enforce it.”

They sure will, got a ticket in PA when I passed a truck with mine in the left lane and got a ticket for staying in the left lane too long after the pass in the 80s. Lots of states enforce that law.

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