The new law requiring Minnesota drivers to go hands-free starting Thursday has received lots of attention. There’s been a slew of news stories and social media posts reminding drivers that they can’t have a phone in their hand while behind the wheel.

Another law takes effect Thursday, too. It prohibits slow drivers from hogging the left lane.

Technically, the “slowpoke” law isn’t actually new. Minnesota has long had a requirement that slower-moving motorists use the right lane and allow others to pass when practicable, said Lt. Gordon Shank of the Minnesota State Patrol.

“The law has just been modernized to account for today’s traffic,” Shank said. For example, it comes with a $50 fine, plus court fees.

If you think that is a license to speed, think again, Shank said. The law doesn’t permit drivers to exceed the speed limit. It’s really about maintaining optimum traffic flow.

“Traffic moves most efficiently when everyone is traveling at about the same speed, which cannot be above the posted limit or faster than conditions might allow,” Shank said.

Drive reader Linda wondered if you can stay in the left lane to pass a line of semitrailer trucks that are all traveling in the right lane. “Is it required that you keep cutting in and out of the right lane so you aren’t driving in the left lane?” she asked in an e-mail.

In that situation, a driver can remain in the left lane until all the trucks have been passed, Shank said. If a driver going faster comes up from behind, then the motorist passing the trucks should move over when it is safe to do so and let the speedier vehicle go by, he said.

With the left lane meant for passing, others wondered if the law meant motorists should remain in the right lane when encountering stopped emergency vehicles. Nope. Drivers must give emergency vehicles clearance by moving over a lane.

But drivers can remain in the left lane in thick rush hour traffic until there is an opportunity to vacate the lane. The same is true when approaching construction zones where signs tell drivers to “Use Both Lanes” until they get to the merging point, aka the zipper merge.

The bottom line, even without the official edict: It’s common courtesy for motorists to move right and let faster drivers pass. It’s a good way to prevent road rage and reduce the stress that comes with navigating traffic-choked roads, Shank said.

Supercharging Nice Ride

Nice Ride Minnesota, the metro area’s bike-sharing program, is adding 50 pedal-assisted electric bikes to its fleet. They will hit the streets Monday.

The e-bikes have a motor that amplifies a rider’s pedaling power to give them an extra boost. That power helps riders achieve faster speeds, provides assistance with going up hills and makes longer trips easier.

In other cities, e-bikes have tripled the use of bike share and attracted thousands of new riders, said Bill Dossett, Nice Ride’s executive director.

“These 50 bikes are just the beginning of a new era in fast, convenient and fun transportation in Minneapolis,” he said.

The e-bikes can be used at no additional cost. Look for more of them in 2020.

In a related special, low-income residents who sign up for Nice Ride for All before Sept. 30 will pay only $5 for a first-year membership. Typically it’s $5 per month.

 

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.