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


Left and right, right and wrong

I thought most drivers now realized that driving continuously in the left-hand lane of a multi-lane roadway without justification is illegal.  Unfortunately, driver behavior observed on a recent road trip offered doubt to that supposition.

I encountered drivers in many states gleefully occupying the passing lane without need or cause, ignoring the law forbidding them to be there when not overtaking another vehicle.  On top of that, polls reveal that up to 47% of Washington drivers are oblivious to the requirement to stay in the right-hand lane except to pass.

There are exceptions to the rule, like maneuvering to the left lane to avoid an object in the roadway, moving left to allow a merge, or preparing to make a left turn.  However, deciding to camp there using excuses like, “I’m going the speed limit,” or “That lane is smoother,” does not justify the illegal procedure.

Aside from being illegal, hogging the left lane is annoying and potentially dangerous.  It is regularly cited as impetus for road rage — either emerging from the cars being blocked, or from the blocker when tailgated or “educated” via high beams directed at the perpetrator.  Also, emergency vehicles (fire, ambulance, and police) are reluctant to pass left lane blockers on the right, since they may retreat to that lane at an inopportune moment and cause a crash.

In 2016, Washington state troopers stopped more than 16,000 left-lane campers for breaking the law, according to the Seattle Times. Many of those scofflaws received a $136 ticket, so it’s evident that law enforcement considers the infraction to be citation-worthy.  One of the Washington State Patrol’s many emphasis programs is directly aimed at lane blockers.

Drivers continuously occupying the left lane actually give rise to another law permitting passing on the right when there are two or more lanes of traffic travelling in the same direction of travel.  If everyone followed the “stay right except to pass” law, we wouldn’t need that law. But if there were one slow driver in the left lane of the freeway and no law allowing passing on the right, there would be vacant right lane and a left lane backed up for miles.

So, drivers can legally pass on the right to keep the traffic moving, but it’s still dangerous.  When making freeway passes on the right, remember that the driver of the car you’re passing is probably not paying attention  That inattentive driver might eventually “wake up” and move into the right lane without first checking to see if you’re there — the same concern noted above for emergency vehicles.

Other than passing a left-lane hog on a multi-lane roadway, most passing on the right is illegal.  Drivers can legally pass a stopped, left turning vehicle if there is a paved shoulder to accommodate it.  Otherwise, is illegal to use the shoulder, or portion of ground beyond the painted fog line, to effect a pass around another vehicle on their right.

Good drivers know and follow the rules of the road.  They also anticipate less-savvy drivers who don’t know the rules or ignore them.

Overall, regardless of legal conformity, maneuvers in traffic should be made with safety in mind while keeping a margin of error for the unexpected.  Accident avoidance should be the prime directive — that can still happen regardless of who is on the right or left, or legally right.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at