It’s common for drivers to make the error of basing traffic choices on the car before them. Our actions frequently depend on the speed and brake lights we see in front of us, rather than nearby signage. It’s an easy trap to fall into–more so for experienced drivers.

Having so little agency on the road can be dangerous. For instance, following the “flow of traffic” is not a valid excuse for a speed violation in most places. Jams and collisions occur when vehicles constantly accelerate just short of colliding with the person in front of them, only to come to a hard stop. You may find yourself imitating the dangerous behavior of other drivers due to inattention alone.

This is where “lemming syndrome” comes in. Lemmings are small mammals that travel in huge groups, and notoriously follow the lemming before them faithfully. Droves of these animals have been known to pitch over cliffsides or end up in equally dramatic situations.

While it’s an extreme example, the principle is similar. It’s good to keep an eye out for speed and traffic signs and understand them when they appear. Make sure there’s no need to modify what you’re doing to comply with the instructions or cautions you see. Pay more attention to the speed limit than the speed of people before or behind you, since it’s likely they themselves are absently trailing after someone!

There’s certainly nothing to be gained by driving nervously, but ensure that proper attention and caution are applied so you can drive decisively. You want to go, not to follow.

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