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


Right is right

When driving vehicles on roadways, using the right-hand lane is right (correct) most of the time.   Admit it — many of you, for varietal reasons, drive in it in without justification.

On roads with two or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, when is it proper (and legal) to drive in the left-hand lane?

a) You are left-handed.

b) You will be turning left within 5 miles.

c)  The right lane is bumpy.

d) You are travelling at the speed limit

e) None of the above.

The correct answer is “e.”  There are only a few reasons for occupying the left-hand lane on such roadways and they are published as law in Washington’s RCW 46.61.100, which reads in part:

Upon all roadways having two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction, all vehicles shall be 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.

There’s nothing there suggesting it’s okay to ride the left lane because you like it better there.  Our Spokane Municipal Code, section 16.61.100 mirrors the State statute, so local drivers have no special left lane privileges either.  Also, you will notice that at the end of the rule it states, “…when such left turn is legally permitted.”  So, turning left across a painted median does not qualify as “legally permitted.”

Our State Legislators of the mid 1980s must have been as bothered by left lane loyalists as I.  In a Rules of the Court footnote to the above RCW, labeled Legislative Intent-1986 c93, we see:  “It is the intent of the legislature, in this 1985 [1986] amendment of RCW 46.61.100 that the left-hand lane on any state highway with two or more lanes in the same direction be used primarily as a passing lane.”

There is usually substantial reasoning and precedent for our Rules of the Road.  They have been honed during a century of driving in America and elsewhere.  The general intent of the rules is to maximize safety and traffic flow.

When you monopolize that left lane, you stand a greater chance of obstructing a fire truck, ambulance, or police cruiser.  That is one of the main reasons for the rule, along with accommodating speeders.  I will defend your right to speed, and pass me, with more vigor than I will defend your right to ride at my rear bumper.  Tailgating is intimidating, dangerous, and downright annoying.  Besides, if you hit me, you are in the wrong, so go ahead and pass, please!

Another proclamation from the RCW at hand reads:  It is a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multilane roadway when it impedes the flow of other traffic.

Again, justification of left lane use includes passing, letting traffic merge, and preparing for an imminent left turn. 

Additionally, it’s actually mandatory to move from the right lane when encountering emergency vehicles on a freeway shoulder, but only until you get beyond them.  And a brand new law requires you to slow to 10 mph under the speed limit if traffic disallows leftward movement.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at