Lane Justice

Reader John sends along this dispatch, another entry in America’s most impassioned, and irrelevant, debate about traffic safety: People driving too slowly in the left lane. Apparently the Georgia legislature has some time on its hands (time saved from speeding along in the left lane),

ATLANTA — It’s a pet peeve for many drivers — getting behind a “slow poke” who won’t get out of the fast lane.

Note: Since it’s laws we’re talking here, in no state highway code is there inscribed such a thing as the “fast lane.”

“I think someone who’s driving 40 miles an hour on a highway that everyone else is doing 65 to 75 on is just as much of a hazard as someone who’s doing 110 in a 70,” said Atlanta driver Vajra Stratigos.

A one-person sample size! Why wade through the traffic safety research — which isn’t exactly filled with case studies of untold numbers of people dying horrific deaths by driving too slowly — when you can just quote a random driver?

State Rep. Mark Butler of Carrollton is sponsoring a bill that puts some teeth in Georgia’s current law. Butler’s bill calls for a minimum fine of $75 for anyone caught impeding traffic by driving below the speed limit in the passing lane of a multi-lane roadway.

Below the speed limit in the left lane? How many times does this actually happen in Georgia? Has this person actually driven in Atlanta? People drive 40 MPH in the school zones! Remember the huge controversy created when a platoon of vehicles tried to actually drive the speed limit in every lane? A vehicular riot almost ensued.

“The far left-hand lane, with the exception of the HOV lane, is supposed to be used for passing,” said Butler.

As a commenter to this blog noted recently, this is not as clear cut as it seems. A driver going 70 in the left lane, passing every driver he sees, is still going to be seen as a ‘left-lane slowpoke’ by the driver going 75.

Butler said he’s not trying to encourage speeding. “It’s about road courtesy and lane discipline, and that’s what we’re hoping to promote with this bill,” he said.

Atlanta driver Michael Johnson doesn’t think the bill is fair. “It’s just another something else to get more money,” he said.

Driver Joel Linderman said it would probably make slow drivers think twice about jumping in the fast lane. “I think after a couple of your friends get fined for that, I think the word will get out,” he said.

The same way people think twice about driving faster than the legally posted speed, for sure!

The bill passed easily in a House subcommittee meeting on Tuesday morning. It now heads to the full House Transportation Committee.

Where it will no doubt sail through on the merits! Who says lawmakers cannot reach consensus!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 at 8:09 pm and is filed under Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

33 Responses to “Lane Justice”

  1. Josh R Says:

    Every time a bill to create another traffic law comes up, they should bring in a bunch of traffic cops under conditions of complete anonymity and ask them if they could and would enforce the law if it passed. I have a feeling that 80% of the time the answer would be something like “Oh hell no, not only couldn’t we enforce it most of the time, but even when we could, there’ll likely be someone else breaking a more serious law within sight that we’ll want to pull over first.”

    Lane discipline and being polite are good, and speed differentials are assuredly dangerous, but the cops should be pulling over reckless drivers and serious speeders before they worry about left lane camping. At most it deserves a talking to about the dangers and not playing cop, but a ticket? Forget it.

  2. 2fs Says:

    I’m a little confused: how fast is one supposed to drive in the left lane in Georgia if this bill goes through? I assume a “speed limit” is exactly that: a limit on how fast one may drive. So if the new law says it’s illegal for anyone to drive slower than the speed limit in the left lane, and the existing law says it’s illegal to drive faster than the speed limit, apparently, anyone not screwed dead-on the speed limit can be ticketed. If nothing else, this should be a fun revenue-producer…

  3. TomL Says:

    On Germany’s autobahns, drivers in the left lane must move over to a right lane whenever a car approaches them from behind in an overtaking move.
    At the same time, drivers are prohibited from passing cars in the right lane under any circumstances.

    The knowledge base and driving skills required to acquire a German driver’s license are significantly higher than in the 50 states. Basic information such as how a gasoline or diesel engine works, how to change a tire, etc. are tested. In the UK, if you take your driving test in car with an automatic transmission, then your license is restricted to only those types of cars. Test in a car with a manual and you are good to go in either type.

    If we raised the requirements for getting a license in the US, our traffic problems would be solved.

  4. Brad Templeton Says:

    In Germany, where the highway death rate is lower that the USA in spite of no speed limits, they have a strong discipline of driving this way. If somebody comes up behind you, your duty is to get out of the way, except in the right lane.

    It makes sense. Going slower than somebody else rather than moving over leads to traffic bunching, and bad behaviours like passing on the right and tailgating. But wait, you say, surely tailgating is the fault of the tailgater, and that may well be true. But it’s also true it doesn’t happen when people keep right except to pass, which is part of why the German highways work as well as they do. Everybody should do what needs to be done to reduce impeding the flow of traffic, even the one who is “in the right” in a tailgating or pass-on-right situation.

  5. John Says:

    The left lane is perceived by many to be safer, especially on two not three lane systems. In my area of Long Island, a case could be made that “left lane to pass” might mean you are always passing, thus always left.

    Anyway, solutions to these problems, again, are found in my blog, Best Driver In The World. The two comments about Germany, and the UK, are right in the sense that we need better training. And so many entries miss the basic point that, if we were better drivers, we could raise the speed limit to accomodate these 75 to 85 mph drivers and cars.

    Tom, make sure you don’t slip so far into sarcasm that you are crediting someone for hours of poring over data, and belittling someone for a personal view. In social science data, subjectivity comes into play (witness cellphone use perception and the Virginia Institute of Transportation data). It can be skewed, affected by a crowd mentality. And a personal view (Stratigos’) can be quite informed– is actually generated by years of observation.

    The readers here will learn things from my blog that they never guessed at, in the arena of how to keep safe. Try me.

  6. Stuart Says:

    Wow, having been on Atlanta highways during rush hour, I think it’s safe to say that everyone on the highway is impeding traffic flow. Maybe it’s time to upgrade MARTA’s image.

  7. Josh R Says:

    Better driver’s training would help a lot in the US. I went to a good 8 week driving course when I was a teen and never regretted it. It didn’t keep me from being a dumb teenager, but it at least gave me the tools to realize when I was at fault and how to correct it. And that’s the big issue with driving in the US, everybody is convinced that the other guy sucks, but that they’re a great driver. Sometimes on the road I visualize Dustin Hoffman’s voice from Rainman coming from every car around me. “Of course I’m an excellent driver…”

  8. John Says:

    62 entries, and I don’t deal with trivia Josh. Try me.

  9. Bossi Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the intent behind the law, but I couldn’t disagree more with the law itself. They’re completely going about this the wrong way… and 2fs hits my first question spot-on: the only permissable speed is *exactly* the speed limit… I wonder if that applies at all times in any weather?

  10. John Says:

    So then, fine commenters, how are we going to drive in 100 years? Will it still be 55, 65, 75 mph? Will it be 100 mph train-like cars, relinquishing control?

    No. We will have to be better drivers, better trained. This involves knowledge and nuances beyond the USA driver training– and even beyond what is commonly taught in Europe. The Autobahn recently had a dangerous multi-car accident in bad weather.

    Read the blog. It’s another level. I don’t deal in trivia and sarcasm. Maybe the American reader public, like the driver public, has lost sight of the difference?

  11. Mitch Says:

    Not entirely on-topic, but “vajra” (as in the name of “Atlanta driver Vajra Stratigos”) means “thunderbolt” in Sanskrit.

  12. Don Says:


    The problem with saying the speed limit is the only permissable speed, is that mechanical issues with the car your driving can push the number on your dial and reality out of whack by up as much as, if not more than 5 MPH.

    Tire pressure for instance can not only affect MPG, but also MPH. The electronic or mechanical sensors that monitor the output shafts don’t know if the diameter of the tires have increased or decreased.

    For example;

    I changed from a 185/60/14 to a 185/55/14.

    Diamter of a tire is calculated by ((X*Y/25.4)*2)+Z with X/Y/Z being the tire format.

    So, if my excel sheet is correct, that is a difference of 3/4″. I’d say well within reality for people to experience, especially up here in NYC with cold weather/warm weather cycles AND tons of pot holes.

    And if the calculator is correct, that alone can set your speedometer off by 2 MPH.

    Underinflate your tires just over an inch with those tires, and you are talking a 5 MPH mistake between real MPH and what your speedometer says.

  13. Charlie Says:

    I agree with the spirit of this law, but not the wording. One of the most infuriating things is getting stuck behind someone in the left lane who refuses to pass the cars to his/her right.

    The law should not reference any specific speed, but should clarify that it is a motorist’s obligation to pass when using the left lane unless congestion prevents him/her from doing so.

    Also, this should only pertain to highways, and not urban streets, since the primary reason for multiple lanes on urban streets is traffic capacity, not to facilitate passing.

  14. SteveL Says:

    * One problem with this law is it sets up expectations that you must drive at certain speeds irrespective of the weather and other conditions. That is dangerous

    * What may make sense for the US is to mandate/enforce a no-undertaking rule. A problem the US has is that you can get into any lane, fix a speed with cruise control and stay there for 500 miles.

    * Germany. While it may get praised in the US, there is the situation of trying to drive across it at 120mph when you come round a bend to see the two inner lanes with cars only doing 80 mph -you coming up at 40 mph on them, you check that it’s clear to pull out, you swing over and the porsche doing 150 comes up behind you flashing their lights. During the daytime there is the visible elite view (fast lane for mercedes, BMW, audi, porsche, middle for VW and others, slow for slow), but at night you can’t see that there is somebody coming up at 150 mph unless you spend too much time looking in your wing mirror for safety.

  15. Michael Says:

    Where I live both major interchanges feature left-lane exits and entrances. Your whole goal in life might be to hang out in the right lane, but you cannot avoid the left entirely. And there is a maximum speed allowed, and I’m not going any faster than that, and it’s not really even sensible to complain that someone going the speed limit is going to slow. By the very definition, the maximum allowable speed must be fast enough!

  16. clever-title Says:

    I thought most states already had “keep right except to pass” laws that would cover this situation.

  17. Bossi Says:


    Yep, that’s essentially what I was implying. “Exactly on the speed limit” is something that generally cannot be feasibly attained… hence my agreement that the letter of the law needs to learn a few more letters from Sesame Street.

  18. Bossi Says:

    Yes, most states do have those laws; but they can be exceptionally difficult to enforce. A police officer would have to follow a motorist for a long enough duration to determine whether or not the motorist is engaged in passing or if the motorist is not… and when a motorist sees a police officer in the rear view mirror, even if the lights and siren aren’t on, the motorist will often change lanes in response. So the net result is that while I know it is enforced in places such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, it’s rarely so simply because it’s difficult to catch anyone in the act. One advantage of the Georgia proposal is that, its fallacies aside, it’d be easy to enforce.

  19. Jeff G Says:

    A lot of drivers who are big advocates of this law haven’t even internalized what it actually says: you can be ticketed if you are not doing at least the speed limit in the left lane. If you are doing the speed limit, you will still be perfectly legal being in the left lane. Thus, in the vast majority of instances where people are annoyed because they wish to significantly speed in the left lane but are not able to do so because of someone that they perceive to be a slow-poke blocking them, this law is not going to help them.

  20. Jack Says:

    In driving on FL highways, the left lanes are constantly filled with old drivers cruising significantly below the posted speed limit. This inevitably creates rapid, constant and dangerous lane changers attempting to get ahead. Slow drivers are a problem but so are too aggressive drivers. Atlanta drivers are excessive speeders.

    Upgrading laws that requires greater vigilance on the part of law enforcement are doomed to failure. Instead higher testing standards are greatly needed and should be more frequent. We must continue to be dependent on the goodwill and courtesy of drivers to travel safely. Perhaps we need tougher standards to narrow the currently wide range in horsepower, mpg, etc. to improve safety and cooperation.

  21. John Says:


    I believe it’s not exactly true that “upgrading laws requiring greater vigilance on the part of law enforcement” are doomed. The trick is to make all of us law enforcement: citizen reporters, and streamline the process of reporting. Imagine a bad driver who realizes everyone around has the right to report (him)? It’s reasoned out here–

    Because we live in a scofflaw society when it comes to many driving laws, I believe this is a stronger and more short-term solution to many driving hazards.

    I write my blog without sarcasm or trivia, and I’m trying to attract more readers.

  22. TomL Says:

    There are laws and there are priorities.

    With a limited number of cops on traffic patrol in every state and municipality, I hope they are spending much more time pulling over drunk drivers, speeders, tailgaters and other truly dangerous drivers, than wasting their time on the occasional driver doing the speed limit in the left lane.

    Who is more dangerous? The guy doing the speed limit in the left lane? Or the guy riding on his bumper, flashing high beams and otherwise trying to intimidate the car in front of him?

  23. Davey Bob (Atlanta) Says:

    One problem caused by the person in the left lane going slower than the person in the next-to-left lane is that people will pull over to pass the slowbie. And changing lanes is when a lot of accidents happen (as opposed to going in a straight line in your lane).

    Another problem – at least in Atlanta – is that our highways are over capacity several hours a day (usually 6:30am – 7:30pm). The slowbie is impeding efficient use of available lanes; he is, in one sense, closing down that lane and backing people up behind him.

  24. TomL Says:

    #23: this is exactly why so many accidents happen around the exits or junctions with other major roads.

    People in the left lane – who know they need to take a specific major exit – continue driving in the left lane as long as possible. Then, because they are ‘The Most Important Drivers on the Road’, change lanes at last possible moment, cutting in front of all the other drivers who have already moved over into the right lane, ready to exit the highway.

    I especially see this with drivers exiting the HOV/carpool lanes.

  25. Peter Says:

    #18: Surely they’ve figured out a way to enforce this in Germany. I doubt people’s strict adherence to the laws there is based on the honour system. When I was driving there with my cousin, she practically freaked out because I didn’t move right immediately after passing.

  26. Josh R Says:

    Peter, I wouldn’t discount the “honor system” too lightly. If everyone get the same level of high quality driver’s ed, and everybody is on the same page as far as the rules of the road, it can have a significant effect. We’re far too accepting of the half-assed level of driver’s ed we get here in the states, and there are far too many drivers here who forgot what little they learned the instant they left the DMV.

    One tidbit I recall about driving in Germany is the fact that a lot of German drivers really dislike the increase in foreign drivers and truckers on their roads because they don’t know the rules and are nowhere close to as well trained as german drivers. IIRC there have been several serious crashes on the autobahn in recent years that were attributed to foreign drivers screwing up, following to close, or losing control.

  27. Jack Says:

    @ John,

    Citizens serving as unlicensed enforcement officers won’t work. Ever try to report on neighbors driving irresponsibly and disobeying laws? My experience (and other neighbors’) shows that hatred, retaliation and property destruction are the rewards. In addition, bad drivers typically don’t want other drivers like them held responsible as it means further cuts to their preferred behavior.

    As Davey Bob points out, the left lane owners like to hug the lanes to the last second before cutting off numerous other drivers to make their exit… these bad habits are multiplying and enabled via speed and ignoring safety.

    I suppose that the only way to hold drivers accountable is to have electronic devices in every car which would automatically issue speeding tickets, red light running, rapid lane changing, etc, to their owners. Our public roads create more death, destruction, property damage, and serious injuries to more citizens than anything else we do and most drivers want all of this to be viewed as simply “accidents”.

  28. Michael Says:

    When I was a child, America’s interstate system was somewhat new and our particular stretch of I-90, the New York State Thruway was quite the treat for any motorist. It was a big deal to hop on it in the early sixties and as I recall, there was excellent lane discipline and it was actually considered a thrilling moment when it came time to pass a truck or another car.

    Maybe it was the cruise control or just too much traffic but lane discipline in America has all but vanished. I am older now and readily admit to driving like a geezer. My job requires me to drive on I-83 often (between Harrisburg/York PA and Baltimore MD) and I am amazed that in rush hour traffic I am slower in the right lane but relatively unencumbered as the left lane has turned into some sort of informal main lane of traffic now. It’s particularly embarrassing to see the right lane start moving faster because fewer cars are in it. I think people perceive they will held up by a large truck or slower traffic – it does happen but the fear of it is not congruent to the event. The highway would have no capacity problems if motorists would simply return to the right lane after passing. I have often joked to my wife that I need to get a photo someday of the phenomenon – Left lane completely congested while the right lane is clear.

  29. kathy Says:

    Jack, chips in every car? What are you a fascist? how about implanting a chip in your head? The goverment has their noses in our lives to much already. If we drove like germans we would not have to worry about people like you wanting to implant chips in everything you think should be contolled according to your personal limited world view. Please go back to your little box!

  30. Diana Says:

    The auto industry is putting a power off device in vehicles so law enforcement may safely stop a stolen car or dangerous driver. No chase involved. No inocents hurt or killed. The future looks brighter in that respect for me. See the GM web site they are already doing it.
    We pay and test out for the privilege to drive. I personally was not given the right to tailgate another person when they handed me my licenses. I do drive the fast lane and found allowing room for the person in front of me to see when they can switch lanes works out much better with less stress for both parties. Besides I don’t know if they have an infant in the back seat or simply got stuck in the lane. I couldn’t live with my self if I thought I would cause harm to a family. I don’t have the right to make someone have a bad day. Courtesy.

  31. DaveC Says:

    Left lane squatting is an endemic problem in the USA, and not nearly as bad elsewhere. In Germany, it is near-zero due to systematic enforcement by the police. Most of Europe is somewhere in between.

    The problem is so bad in the USA that it causes huge economic losses … trafic jams where none should be, and highways with entire extra lanes that they should not need.

    Current speed limits are not about safety – the current conventions were established in the days when cars had drum brakes, cross-ply tyres and truly abominable handling. A modern shopping trolley like a Honda Accord easily outperforms the best sports cars of that era, especially in cornering and braking, and has low profile radial tyres, decent suspension, and assistive safety technology like ABS and stability control.

    The problem with any driving standards laws in the USA is that highway enforcement is primarily a revenue generating function, and you can’t measure incompetence with a radar gun. This law is not only badly framed, it’s pointless. Note that the USA is the only country where speed limits are set by local fiefdoms like counties, rather than by national road safety standards – do you really believe councilman Billy Joe Jim Bob understands road safety better than someone at NHTSA with a degree in engineering? No, it’s about revenue.

    In Europe, it’s tacitly understood that the 1970’s-originated speed limits are artificially low for modern technology, and by comparison, the cops are far more relaxed about enforcing them … in most jurisdictions, 85 mph is the norm on motorways in the UK where the limit is 70 mph … but the old limits give the cops something to go on to write tickets to idiots who were doing something else stupid, that is objectively measurable and not subject to debate in court. This understanding of course relies on the cops exercising appropriate discretion, and is arguably untenable in the very adversarial context of the US police relationship with its citizens.

  32. Diana Says:

    So you want to drive as you would have in Europe. Been there, drove that. In City driving is totally different than driving the Autobahn. Slower more chaotic. Huge use of horns.
    I still choose not to tailgate or become a Willy Weaver to prove who owns the lane. I believe that courtesy comes before tragedy. People that tailgate cause traffic jams by not allowing another driver in. One person Slams on the brakes and the domino effect begins. Try another domino effect, respect the Person inside the car a head of you. We tend to forget a human with a life and loved ones are the ones in the other auto. Would you tailgate a person in the checkout lane at the store?
    Until they come up with the ultimate road system this is what we have. Me I am waiting for the flying car they promised me in grade school. I drive 52 miles and through a major city one way Monday through Friday. Then I get to go home again. This was another choice I made.

  33. movealongs Says:

    I agree that the left lane gets abused by many. A lot of states have laws for use of the left lane. Courtesy has left driving as it has become more of a competition of sorts. Traffic jams are one situation where the left lane is typically filled and cannot be used only for passing. However, there are many times that traffic is aligned in a manner that left lane drivers impede traffic especially if they are not passing another vehicle. I address a solution in my product,

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