Is this one of your pet peeves? You’re traveling down the freeway in the left lane, passing cars on the right, with your cruise control set five or six mph above the posted speed limit. You approach a car in your lane that’s going below the speed limit, and the driver refuses to move over. You have to cancel your cruise control, check your blind spot and pass the slow-moving car on the right before returning to your regular speed.
Sure, there are worse things that could happen on a roadtrip. But cars that drive too slowly in the left lane force drivers to adjust their speed, create bottlenecks and contribute to road rage. They’re a nuisance and uncourteous. And they may soon be subject to big fines if new state laws pass.
Most states have “keep right” laws that restrict use of the left lane by slow-moving vehicles, and a few states have laws that permit use of the left lane only for passing or turning left. But until now, few have imposed penalties.
This year, at least five states are considering laws that ticket drivers, sometimes as high as $250, who impede the left lane:
- Maryland: House Bill 1451 would fine drivers who use the left lane for anything other than passing $75 for a first offense, $150 for a second offense and $250 for the third or more offense. The law would apply to roads with three or more lanes going in the same direction and posted speed limits of 55 mph or higher. It makes exceptions for motorists using a left exit or a left HOV lane, and it doesn’t apply when traffic is moving 10 mph or more below the speed limit.
- Nevada: Assembly Bills 329 and 334 would fine drivers impeding the left lane $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense and $250 for a third offense. Exceptions include motorists preparing to make a left turn, traveling in an HOV lane, engaging in construction or highway repair, and driving in inclement weather. If the bills pass, the law goes into effect July 1.
- North Carolina: Senate Bill 303 would impose a $200 fine on motorists in the left lane driving below the posted speed limit or impeding the steady flow of traffic.
- Oregon: Senate Bill 532 requires drivers on highways to stay out of the left lane except to pass and punishes violators a maximum fine of $250. Exceptions include avoiding road hazards, making a left turn or moving over for emergency and roadside assistance vehicles.
- Virginia: House Bill 2201 would impose a $100 fine for driving too slowly in the left lane on highways. The fine was originally $250 but dropped to $100 at the request of the governor.
Left-Lane Laws Pros and Cons
Why are such bills becoming common? Since the national 55 mph speed limit was repealed in 1995, many states have raised speed limits dramatically. More than 40 states have speed limits of 70 mph or higher, and some highways in Texas have 85 mph limits. Hawaii and the District of Columbia are the only places where the maximum speed limit is less than 65 mph.
Left-lane laws are intended to encourage a common courtesy that not all drivers observe: keep to the right, pass on the left. Proponents say they curb road rage and help traffic flow more efficiently and safely by keeping it a consistent speed. It also leaves the left lane open for emergency vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances responding to accidents.
Opponents of the laws say they embolden motorists to speed and drive recklessly, that they “encourage very aggressive males to tailgate old ladies.” They argue that dangerous speeding contributes to more accidents and that aggressive drivers who instigate road rage are the ones who should be ticketed. They also believe that states should instead deter other highway hazards, such as distracted driving.
The laws shouldn’t be considered permission to zoom down the left lane at speeds well above the limit. Nor should you tailgate or otherwise engage with people driving too slowly. Let the highway patrol enforce the law.
We could all get to where we’re going safer and faster if we just be more courteous to other drivers. Keep right except to pass. Maintain an adequate gap between yourself and the car in front of you. Use your turn signals to change lanes. Move out of the right lane when a car is trying to merge onto the highway, and start moving over early when your exit is coming up.