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


Recurring controversy

Over the years of this column’s publication, some driving topics give rise to recurring controversy.  Although common sense and written law should dictate driver behavior, certain situations continue to be a source of uncertainty, frustration, and even rage.

Differing opinions and indifference to established rules seem to surround left lane use on roads with multiple lanes provided in the same direction of travel.  I have had several drivers tell me that they are justified in staying left if, “they are going the speed limit.”  Actually, no, that alone is not a qualifying reason.

Reader J.S. recently wrote to me, wondering, “What is the traffic infraction called when someone persistently drives in the passing lane of the freeway, often holding up passing traffic?”

The infraction is known as, “continuous use of the left lane without due cause.”  Officially, in Washington, doing so is in violation of RCW 46.61.100, titled, “Keep right except when passing, et cetera.”  In the code, the “passing” part is fairly clear, stating that one may occupy the left lane while overtaking and passing another vehicle travelling in the same direction.  The “et cetera” portion of the law generally refers to a couple of other qualifying reasons to be there, namely when preparing to make a left hand turn from the roadway (within a reasonable time — not several miles before) or when moving left to allow a merge from the right.

And those are the only occasions that legally allow it.  There is little room for dissention on those requirements.  I’m sure that moving left to avoid a large object in the right hand lane would be a valid excuse, but state troopers I’ve ridden with do, in fact, ticket drivers who continuously ride left without a proper reason.

J.S. reminded me of another contentious topic, writing, “When one comes upon a traffic merge sign, say one mile ahead, why do people get into the one lane so early, with the second lane wide open? Shouldn't everyone use the open second lane until merging alternately at the point of merge? If I drive on the open lane, passing many, I get some dirty looks like I’m the biggest jerk cutting in line.”

This one always brings lively discussion.  I’m sure some think J.S. is a jerk just for asking his question!  To me, logically, it seems that both lanes should be used as far as available followed by an orderly, zipper-like blend of vehicles at the merge point.  But as J.S. implies, that logic falls short on a majority of drivers who seem to be jealous and perturbed over the fact that they merged early and you didn’t!”

As a result, I must admit that the potential road rage induced from travelling past a string of vehicles and executing a late merge causes me to avoid doing so.  Instead, I get into the string early, and watch others react to drivers who employ the logic of making use of the open lane until the merge point.  This is one of the “gray areas” of driving that can make things interesting.

Finally, J.S. inquired about another situation that fits into a gray area.  He asked, “When you are at an intersection with a green light and waiting to turn left, waiting for on-coming traffic to pass by, can you proceed into the middle of the intersection or are you supposed to wait behind the stop line before you proceed? I have been behind some drivers who wait behind the line so they aren’t ready even when the light turns yellow. No one turns!”

State troopers I’ve spoken with generally concur that they don’t issue citations to drivers adopting the procedure of entering the intersection upon a green indication for their chance to quickly turn left after a red indication appears and oncoming traffic stops.

Based on a desire to help efficient traffic flow, I will continue to “sneak” into the intersection from left-turn lanes upon green indications even if oncoming traffic will not allow an immediate turn, especially at those intersections where I know sitting behind the stop line will cause the oncoming traffic to thwart my left turn perpetually.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at