Minnesotans, some say it's high time you moved on over to the right lane of traffic.
Drivers who are traveling in the left lane more slowly than the "speed of traffic" could face a misdemeanor fine of at least $100 under a measure introduced — yet again — at the Legislature.
While every state requires slower-moving traffic to merge right, more than three dozen states have enacted "slowpoke" laws that give law enforcement officers the ability to fine slower drivers in the left lane.
Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, wants Minnesota to join the bunch. So this year, he once again introduced a bill that not only calls for a fine but a statewide awareness campaign to educate the public on the dangers of blocking left-lane drivers who want to go faster.
"My intent is to make sure traffic flows efficiently," Jasinski said. "If there's traffic behind you, move over."
While last year's effort was part of an omnibus package that was ultimately vetoed, Jasinski says most of his southern Minnesota constituents and others agree with his effort to crack down on left-lane drivers sometimes derisively referred to as "left-lane hogs" and "keepers of the speed."
Last year, the bill drew widespread response on social media, most of it supportive, although a few questioned "whether I had anything better to do," Jasinski added. He's introduced 40 other bills this session, including measures that tackle the fallout from the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System debacle, but he decided to pursue left-lane legislation again "because people really seem to like it."
The Minnesota State Patrol raised concerns during last year's legislative session that the bill could promote speeding and could be difficult to enforce.
Col. Matt Langer, chief of the State Patrol, said in an e-mail that the bill "is a challenging policy issue because it could lead drivers to incorrectly believe they are able to exceed the speed limit or drive faster than conditions allow."
Langer noted that speed has been a contributing factor in 28 percent of fatal single-vehicle crashes over the past five years. "We don't want any confusion in our message: Slowing down and obeying the speed limit is not only the law, but it reduces traffic deaths," he said.
Jasinski said he tried to tweak the bill to address the State Patrol's concerns.
"I don't anticipate the State Patrol doing a ton of tickets," Jasinski said. "It's really for flagrant offenders."
According to the National Motorists Association, a Wisconsin-based advocacy group, the practice of moving to the right lane to let faster traffic pass, which it calls "lane courtesy," evolved with the development of the Interstate Highway System.
But when the 55 mph speed limit was adopted to save gas during the oil crisis in the 1970s, slower drivers "felt they could drive wherever they wanted," the group said on its website.
"It's a shame lane courtesy has to be mandated," said Shelia Dunn, the association's communications director. If motorists would simply move to the right lane, they'd get better gas mileage, arrive at their destination faster, and avoid road rage and crashes, she said.
Langer, from the State Patrol, agrees that slower drivers should move right. "Our focus is on ensuring the safe, efficient movement of traffic on Minnesota's roadways. That's why we tell drivers to move over when someone is driving faster than they are, which also helps prevent aggressive driving behaviors," he said.
Jane Terry, director of government affairs with the National Safety Council, questions whether a left-lane law would really make roads safer.
"We have limited law enforcement dollars, so how can we really focus those dollars on the persistent problems that are resulting in fatalities?" Terry said. "Not just the frustration on roads — the things actually leading to deaths on the roadway." Typically that involves speeding, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and not wearing seat belts, she said.
Nonetheless, the Minnesota bill is inching forward. Following a Senate transportation committee hearing Tuesday, the bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee for further review. A companion bill has also been introduced in the House.