The Left Lane Is For Passing ^&%$#(@!!!

So, can you or can you not take legally justified umbrage at Sunday drivers puttering along in the left lane as if it were their personal cruising track? Few driving practices create more road rage and, in my opinion, accidents. Car and Driver magazine agrees, “A 2016 AAA study found that nearly 80 percent of drivers reported feelings of anger and aggression when slow drivers wouldn’t get out of the left lane, and 51 percent said they ‘purposefully tailgated.'”

While not a federal law but rather a model act created by a non-profit organization, the Uniform Vehicle Code states, “Upon all roadways, any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic …” Translation: the left lane is for passing.

It’s not binding, of course, but it’s pretty clear you’re supposed to get the heck out of the left lane if you’re idling along. And many states back up this suggestion with law. The specifics vary.

Don’t Mess With … the Law

While every state claims to have the worst drivers, I can definitively state South Carolina has the highest per-capita number of left-lane cruisers, especially on the stretch of I-26 between Charleston and Columbia. I have it on good authority, because science, that people from all over the country who believe their tax dollars entitle them to drive 45 mph in the left lane move here for the express purpose of driving back and forth between South Carolina’s two largest cities. #Fact.

Little do they know they are breaking the law. In 2014, two fed-up state reps got a “get your slow butt out of the left lane” law, making driving in the left lane illegal. It’s now for passing only. Tell that to the snowbirds. While there are some reasonable exceptions, like no one else is around, or traffic is heavy, violating the law under normal circumstances will get you two points on your record.

Many states take a similar approach. While we can’t cover all 50 here (look yours up to be safe), many including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Jersey and others, driving in the left lane for no reason and not yielding to traffic wishing to pass is illegal. That applies even if the left lane putzer is “Karen” wishing to forcibly impose the speed limit on everyone else.

Other states have reserved all other lanes except the right for passing. In Missouri, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, and Washington, the center lanes are reserved for passing, too, unless you have a good reason for being there, like an upcoming left turn or exit. Sadly, I have yet to witness someone getting pulled over for clogging up traffic in this manner.

California does not necessarily agree. Rob Lund, a California Highway Patrol spokesperson, referred to the “left pane is for passing” controversy as a historical carryover, stating, “It goes back to when the roadways were, at best, two lanes in each direction, and it was kind of an unwritten rule that the left lane was for passing.” Trailers and such are discouraged, and you can be cited for driving too slow in the left lane, however.

You might hear a reference to the “Hammer Lane.” That is believed to be a carryover from trucker lingo, also referring to the passing lane. As you might have guessed, it’s derived from “hammering” the accelerator to speed up and pass slower traffic.

So, What To Do?

Details vary by state, but in many places, it’s acceptable etiquette to use your left blinker or a high-beam flash to indicate to a left-lane hog you want to pass. In no states, except apparently South Carolina, is it legal to ride the person’s bumper until they move. Yes, that’s the leading cause of accidents when everyone is going in the same direction.

To beat this dead 1986 Lincoln Continental just a bit more, if nothing else, do you part to improve road manners. Be aware. If there are 15 cars lined up behind you in the left lane, just keep diddling with your phone and ignore all those hacked-off drivers. Or, perhaps, consider moving over. Remember, slow lane … go lane.

If you want to lobby your state legislature to put some teeth behind the complaints, take a hint from a successful Ohio road sign campaign, “Camp in our state parks, not in the left lane.”

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