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How to really fix the "Keep Right Except To Pass" problem

I've read several items lately--including news from Indiana where they just passed a new Keep Right law--that makes it sound like one of the huge problems facing our nation's highways is people in the left lane. Clogging our interstates with slow vehicles. Slowing down law-abiding drivers. I suspect that this isn't actually the case.

But first, a couple of explanations...
1.) It should be obvious, but if you're in the left lane on a divided highway going less than the speed limit with room in the right lane, you're a lane blocker. You're wrong. Move over.

2.) Speed limits exist for a reason. Don't speed and whine. Yes, if you're going 5 mph over you're unlikely to be pulled over and given a ticket for speeding. What about 10 mph over? More of a gray area. But is it really necessary to do 85 in a 65 mph zone? If you get the book thrown at you for this kind of dangerous driving, don't complain. You deserve it. Please obey posted speed limits!

3.) For the purposes of the example below, let's assume traffic in the right lane is moving on a rural interstate at the posted speed limit of 65 mph.

This is probably the most likely cause of American driving frustration on a divided, high-speed highway. You're the 4th car from the right in this thought experiment. What do you do? The 3 cars in the passing lane are all traveling at 75 mph.

Do you pull out in front of them? Do you wait for them to pass? If you wait for them to pass, the 3 cars behind you may move into the left lane before you do.

And if you choose to pull into the passing lane, what speed? Let's say you pick 70 mph. Technically illegal but well within the "not going to get a ticket" buffer. But still 5 mph slower than the 3 cars now on your tail.

If you're the driver of one of our 3 high-speed left lane vehicles, do you expect the vehicle who just pulled out to pass to fit in between those two 18-wheelers? Most drivers are going to choose to either pass both trucks OR finish passing the entire line of cars.

I'm guessing this is where a lot of frustration over "left lane blocking" comes from. The cars doing 75 mph in the left lane are upset that a slower car pulled out into the left lane and are slowing them down. You may even be upset they didn't pull over in front of the trucks into a hole in traffic. Even if the logical place for them is probably at the front of the line now that they are doing 70 mph.


Car    Car          Car
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Car            Car            Car                  xCar     Truck                     Truck                              Car   Car


>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Direction of traffic  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


A few points to make...
--All 3 of the cars in the left lane are breaking the law. You can't really be mad at anybody else when you're acting illegally.

--Once a car from the right lane (traveling the speed limit) moves into the passing lane, they're now executing a legal maneuver. They now have the Right Of Way in the left lane until they finish their pass...whether that's 1 car or 10 cars is up to them.

--If you're traveling at high speed in the passing lane, be prepared for traffic merging from the right to pass. That means slow down, match speeds and only speed up when they are back safely in the right lane. Leave assured clear distance in front of you...that's several car lengths. Don't be a jerk and tailgate or flash your lights.

The bottom line here for all the complainers about left lane hogs is twofold. First, we need better enforcement of speeding on highways. And those caught going more than a few mph over the speed limit need hefty fines and dangerous driving implications. Secondly, it's not so much a "blocking the left lane" problem as it is highway design and across the board "confusion of use" problem. 3 lanes is far better to have specific "slow," "cruising," and "passing" lanes. But it's also up to faster traffic to be aware of road conditions. By all means, if you're squatting in the left lane, you're wrong. The flipside of that is that the left lane isn't open permission to do 90 mph and honk at anybody who doesn't move.

Stay safe out there.

PS Here in IL the relevant part of the Vehicle Code that has been in effect since 2004 reads as follows:

(d) Upon an Interstate highway or fully access controlled freeway, a vehicle may not be driven in the left lane, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle. 
    (e) Subsection (d) of this Section does not apply: 
        (1) when no other vehicle is directly behind the
    
vehicle in the left lane;
        (2) when traffic conditions and congestion make it
    
impractical to drive in the right lane;
        (3) when snow and other inclement weather conditions
    
make it necessary to drive in the left lane;
        (4) when obstructions or hazards exist in the right
    
lane;
        (5) when a vehicle changes lanes to comply with
    
Sections 11-907 and 11-908 of this Code;
        (6) when, because of highway design, a vehicle must
    
be driven in the left lane when preparing to exit;
        (7) on toll highways when necessary to use I-Pass,
    
and on toll and other highways when driving in the left lane is required to comply with an official traffic control device; or
        (8) to law enforcement vehicles, ambulances, and
    
other emergency vehicles engaged in official duties and vehicles engaged in highway maintenance and construction operations.

I think it's a fairly reasonable version. It acknowledges that the problem is chiefly when a car is approaching behind you. And that several situations may mean you don't have to move so that the car approaching at high speed from behind must yield.

Just as with the new Indiana law, I find it interesting that the discussion of the law itself in the media (Google old news articles) tends to come across as "this law is designed so faster traffic in the left lane is given the lane." Which isn't really the case at all when you read the legislation. It's much more nuanced and more dependent on a variety of factors. And nevermind that these left lane laws aren't exactly drawing huge citation numbers even for the worst offenders...in 2006, Illinois State Police issued just 2647 warnings and 170 tickets. That was 2 years after the law began.

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