Do you think slow drivers in the left lane are dangerous?

We all know that the left lane is for passing only … so why is it so often misused?

In Washington State, it’s against the law to drive continuously in the left lane.

While it may not always seem like it, Washington state troopers do enforce this law. In 2015, police issued 14,000 citations for improper use of the left lane. The current penalty: $58.


We already have a comparatively strong left-lane law.

But, a bill pending in the Washington State Senate aims to strengthen it by increasing the penalty for certain left lane driving. State Senator Guy Palumbo proposes a fine increase, with penalties starting at $70, and going up to $181.

Oregon lawmakers also want to crack down on slow drivers

In Oregon, State Senator Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) proposed a law to set left lane restrictions on interstates and state highways with speed limits at least 55 mph.

“People who hog the left lane lead to road rage and frustration, tailgating, passing on the right… All of these are unsafe behaviors.” PBS Newshour

The bill, which passed the House and is now pending in the Oregon Senate, has fairly broad support—including in the trucking industry. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association endorses the measure, noting that blocking the left lane reduces both trucking safety and road efficiency.

Bill Fugate, Captain with Oregon State Police, testified on behalf of the bill in the House. He pointed out that “Lane Usage” is considered a factor in serious car crashes (emphasis added).

At the Oregon State Police we focus enforcement efforts on the five driving behaviors that tend to lead to serious injury and fatal crashes.

Those behaviors are summarized in the acronym SOLID: Speed, Occupant Safety, Lane Usage, Impaired Driving and Distracted Driving.

The speed differential theory of left-lane slow drivers

This short video from Vox explains the theory of why drivers misusing the left lane make traffic more dangerous.

Do lane changes contribute to crashes? Some say the strongest predictor of crash is variance from the average speed. 

While this is a compelling argument—and I would bet that anyone commutes on I-5 understands—there doesn’t seem to be data supporting it.

We know that there is a direct correlation between speed and crash risk.

We know that there is a direct correlation between speed and collision severity.

But if there is a comprehensive peer-reviewed study showing that speed differential increases crash risk, I can’t find it. (If you know of one, please tell me on Twitter – @kevincoluccio).

In the meantime, I suspect that the left-lane laws and enforcement are traffic-based, not safety-based.

That’s not a bad thing. But addressing lane restrictions, rather than speed, will likely do little to curb the rising rate of crash injuries and deaths on our highways.

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