Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Lust for the left lane

Regular readers know that I exercise a crusade against wrongful left lane use for roadways with at least two lanes provided for each direction of travel.  I will continue to do so, as I regularly find evidence of drivers with an innate lust for the left lane.

Reader J.S.’s email reveals another quest for potential legitimate left lane use.  He may not be consciously seeking a reason to be in the left lane, but his question implies a latent desire for justification to be there.

He wrote, “I read in your column quite a while ago about the RCW that defines the left lane becoming the center lane on a 5 lane road where the middle lane is shared for turning.  This law stated that through traffic should use the left (center) lane in this case. Leaving the right and turn lane for local traffic.”

And he added, “I drive school bus and am frequently scolded for using the wrong lane as we are strictly told to drive in the right lane only by our trainers and supervisors. Would appreciate if you could tell me which RCW you referenced so I can put this debate to rest.”

I can’t imagine writing of an RCW that defines lane use as J.S. describes, or that such an RCW exists.  The nearest thing I can remember writing of was in a discussion about how to use the three lanes of I-90 entering Spokane westbound.  Within that discussion, I wrote of a reader suggesting that the two left lanes be used for through traffic, leaving the right hand lane more available to local traffic entering and exiting the freeway there.  But even in that instance, though it may be courteous behavior, it is not a legal requirement.

I have addressed legal lane use multiple times over many years, and when it comes to any road with two lanes available in the same direction of travel (regardless of having a two-way left turn lane in the middle), use of the left lane has always been clearly defined by Washington’s RCW 46.61.100.

Applicable segments of that RCW read as follows:

Upon all roadways having two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction, all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, except (a) when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, (b) when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow, (c) when moving left to allow traffic to merge, or (d) when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit, or into a private road or driveway when such left turn is legally permitted.

As J.S. says, if there is a fifth lane between the two lanes in each direction used for through traffic, it is generally designated as a “two-way left turn lane,” available for left turning drivers from both directions to share.  The presence of such a lane has no bearing on the legal lane use for through traffic.  The essential use of the left lane of travel (adjacent to the two-way left turn lane) continues to be for overtaking slower vehicles (as per RCW 46.61.100) even though its allowed use as a lane for preparing to turn left is alleviated by the two-way left turn lane.

I can’t supply the RCW that J.S. believes I once referenced, since I doubt one exists, and I can’t imagine making that reference since my position has always coincided with RCW 46.61.100 regarding legal use of the left lane.

Continually occupying the left lane using the excuse of leaving the right lane for local traffic would go against any driving principles I’ve known or practiced.  If there are vehicles ahead of me in the right lane slowing for right turns, I move to the left lane by the justification that I am overtaking them.  I then return to the right-hand lane after passing.  There is no justification to stay there unless I am overtaking other vehicles, preparing to turn left, moving left to allow a vehicle to enter the roadway from the right, et cetera, per the governing RCW.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at