Cracking Down on Drivers Holding Up the Left Lane

Maryland is weighing stiff fines for highway hogs, joining Virginia, North Carolina with left-lane penalties.

Alexis Wainwright
usnews.com

In Maryland, driving slowly in the left passing lane not only will earn motorists angry glares from other drivers – it may soon cost them hundreds of dollars.

The state’s House of Delegates has passed a bill now pending in the Senate to create fines for driving slowly in the fast lane. A first offense would incur a $75 fine, a second violation $150 and any more infractions $250. It would apply to roads of three or more lanes in one direction with speed limits of at least 55 mph.

Frederick County Delegate William Folden, a Republican, introduced the bill to ease traffic congestion, reduce road rage and make it easier for commuters to get around slow drivers in one of the states with the worst average commuting time

“When you’re creating a bottleneck of traffic, you’re no longer following the basic traffic rules,” Folden says. “In driver’s ed you’re taught to use the left lane to pass and get back over, but somewhere along the line we lost that. People just get in a lane and feel entitled to it and stay there.”

Folden, a police officer, got the idea while driving in Texas. In traffic moving smoothly, he noted a sign that read: “Left lane passing only.”

Maryland is not alone in trying to deal with the problem of slow drivers in passing lanes causing congestion.

It is one of five states that has no enforcement standards concerning drivers who drive under the speed limit in the left lane.

Most state laws make it illegal to drive slowly in the left lane. Many of these states follow the standard that a car driving below the “normal speed of traffic” should remain in the right lane. The fine for violating the law applies only to highways such as interstates and freeways.

The state of North Carolina requires slower drivers to keep right, but the law doesn’t specify a penalty. If a bill filed March 16 passes there, North Carolina would join the four other states trying to crack down on bad driving habits. About three dozen other states have similar laws that specify the left lane is for faster traffic or passing, according to Maryland’s Folden.

In Virginia, a mandatory fine of $250 was proposed for drivers failing to move to the right except when passing. Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, urged the House to lower the fine to $100. It’s awaiting approval of the Senate.

Virginia driver Matt Cachine supports the change.

“People tend to do 30 or 45 (mph) but if you have a lane where people get tickets for that, I think you will at least get those people over so regular traffic can get through,” Cachine says.

British driver Daan Mevius, who was visiting the U.S. recently, says European countries already have such laws on the books.

“It sounds like a good idea to me,” Mevius says of the changes in the U.S. “It will allow police and ambulances to pass, and cars can go faster, (while) others stay to the right. In Europe it works well.”

North Carolina’s bill is similar to the one Folden introduced in Maryland. The bill would impose a $200 fine on drivers caught driving below the speed limit or “impeding the flow of traffic” in the left lane of a highway.

Nevada lawmakers introduced a similar bill that would fine drivers up to $250 for driving too slowly in the furthest left lane on roads. The Oregon Senate has approved a bill that would impose a fine of up to $200 for “certain persons” who are not allowed to “drive in far left unless passing.”
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Maryland’s existing law prohibits anyone moving at 10 mph or more below the posted speed limit or “at less than the normal speed of traffic” from driving in the left lane – and to keep “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb.”

Traffic around the nation’s capital is a documented problem. Maryland has the second-worst average commute time in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report’s Best States rankings. Only New York’s average commute ranks worse than Maryland’s 32.6 minutes. Virginia’s average commute time, 28.2 minutes, is the nation’s seventh worst, the Best States rankings show.

“Maryland has the second worst traffic congestion in the country outside of the D.C. metro area,” Folden says.

“Like every other traffic law in the country that is set up, we’re looking to obtain voluntarily compliance from all our motorists. That’s what traffic laws are about,” Folden says. “This is all about encouraging driver courtesy.”

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