MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Over the course of the year, the Minnesota Department of Transportation estimates Twin Cities metro drivers sit in traffic for 34 hours.

Some people always try to make their way over to the left lane, while others stick to the right.  Often, many people try to weave all the way through.

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So, what is the best lane for rush hour? Good Question.

“The left lane is usually your fastest, usually,” Stephen Zitzow, lab manager at the Minnesota Traffic Observatory, said.

He says most people tend to drive to the right because that’s what we’re taught, which, along with merging, generally makes it the slowest and most crowded.

“I try to stay in the lane I know I need to exit for,” said one Minneapolis rush-hour driver.

But, Zitzow says don’t always count on the left lane getting a driver to their destination in the shortest time.  Traffic patterns can change in seconds.

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“You really can’t tell what lane will be the fastest,” Gary Davis, a civil engineer with the University of Minnesota, said. “It depends on what people are doing.”

Any perturbation, or deviation, can have a ripple effect way down the road when traffic is congested.

“Basically someone sneezing,” Zitzow said. “Everybody can be loosely packed and moving all the same things, but as soon as somebody flinches, blinks, then you get a little shockwave.”

A shockwave is defined as when a majority of vehicles brake in a traffic stream.

Zitzow also points out even accidents that have been cleared hours early can have lasting effects for hours, creating “phantom congestion areas.”

As for whether switching lanes in congested traffic makes a difference, researchers say the answer is generally no.  According to two researchers who studied congested roadways in Canada, lanes always appear to be moving faster next to you even if they’re moving at the same speed.

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“The risks are real, the benefits illusionary,” Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a senior scientist at the University of Toronto School of Medicine, said.

Heather Brown