WASHINGTON – Maybe you’re a bit of a lead-foot. Maybe you don’t like driving behind trucks. Or maybe you just like the view from the left lane. Well, an increasing number of states have a message for you: Get over. Or pay up.
Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia are racing to become the latest in a wave of states that have imposed higher fines and more restrictions on driving in the left lane of multilane highways. The crackdown is an attempt to enforce what legislators say drivers should already know: The left lane of a highway is only for passing.
Since 2013, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey and Tennessee have also stiffened penalties for “slowpoke” driving or “left-lane camping.”
While all states require slow vehicles to keep right, they do not all specifically require drivers to get out of the left lane after overtaking another motorist or set penalties for failing to do so.
“Left-lane cruisers, besides being dangerously oblivious to the other drivers around them, are annoying as heck,” said Kaye Kory, the Democratic Virginia delegate who co-sponsored the bill there.
Her bill, written to take effect during summer vacation traffic in July, was passed by the House with a $250 fine for left-lane motorists driving slower “than the normal speed of traffic” and for drivers staying in the left lane when they are not passing another vehicle. But Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe wanted the fine reduced to $100, which Kory agreed to.
In Oregon, the bill now making its way through the Legislature would impose a $250 fine for driving in the left lane except when passing.
“People who hog the left lane lead to road rage and frustration, tailgating, passing on the right,” said Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, a Democrat who previously championed Oregon’s ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving. “All of these are unsafe behaviors.”
Slowpoke driving bills are popular with constituents and attract media attention.
But the measures aren’t always popular enough to become law. Since 2015, left-lane bills have been proposed in Mississippi, North Carolina and Ohio without winning approval. Questions remain about whether they really improve highway safety.
Burdick said stricter left-lane laws are needed in part because traffic fatalities are rising. Traffic fatalities have increased sharply: In 2015, traffic deaths rose by 7.2 percent over the year before, the largest jump in 50 years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. Traffic deaths rose 8 percent in the first nine months of 2016 over those months in 2015.
Traffic safety experts say there’s no specific research on the danger of left-lane driving.
“I have not seen any research that says that hogging the left lane is a major safety issue,” said Charles Farmer, vice president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “We definitely know that speeding is a major safety issue. The evidence is overwhelming on that.”