MAXWELL:  Left lane is no place for slowpokes

7/5/2000 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


During my most recent trip on Interstate 75, I witnessed one serious wreck, several near collisions, and I sensed a whole lot of road rage around me. All of these incidents and behaviors were caused by the same thing: stubborn SLOWPOKES in the left lane.

Anyone who drives an interstate highway recognizes these motorists, zombies who plop themselves down in the passing lane and refuse to budge _ no matter what. Even when clearly posted signs say something like “Slower Traffic Keep to the Right,” they plod ahead.

I always wonder about these people _ the number of wrecks, injuries and fatalities they cause each year. I also wonder why state troopers do not haul them off the road more often and at least give them a harsh rebuke. A ticket would be better, of course.

On my return trip from Gainesville last weekend, I focused on a few left-lane plodders. One man, with five elderly passengers, drove in the passing lane from the Micanopy exit to the last Ocala exit. More than 40 vehicles, including tractor trailers, piled up behind him.

He did not move over until a bright-red Peterbilt pulled alongside, whereupon the angry trucker unleashed profanities, blasts of the horn and obscene finger gestures. After the truck pulled back, the shaken car driver moved to the nearest right lane and finally all the way over.

Voila! Traffic began to flow smoothly. I always have suspected that left-lane dawdlers are a highway menace, and research confirms my suspicions.

Earlier this year, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill letting motorists know that, where possible, vehicles should be in the right-hand lane unless overtaking slower vehicles. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, impeding the flow of traffic is illegal in most states, meaning that drivers can be cited for blocking other motorists, including speeders.

As of October 1999, 21 states had laws reserving the left lane for passing. In other words, “Pass or Get Right.” The left lane is not to be used for continuous travel.

Officials worry about the left-lane bunch because road rage is the biggest cause of accidents on major highways, and slowpokes incite the most road rage, according to the American Automobile Association.

The Colorado State Patrol estimates that slowpokes in the passing lane caused nearly 5,000 wrecks in that state alone in 1999. Since then, troopers have cracked down on what they call “passive-aggressive” motorists, those who keep exactly the posted speed in the left lane, forcing faster drivers to pass them on the right.

In a Denver Rocky Mountain News article, Colorado State patrol spokesman Maj. Guy King said, “Passive-aggressive drivers have their own agenda: They want to do what’s right and impose the speed limit on other drivers. That’s not a bad thing until it creates a hazardous situation on the road.”

Stephanie Faul, spokeswoman for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in Washington agrees: “(People in the left lane think) they’re enforcing the law for people behind them. It infuriates the person behind them. There are always people who feel they have the right to obey the law, and they do. But the issue of obeying the law is secondary to the primary issue that you’re endangering life.”

Many readers will accuse me of counterintuition, of advocating speeding. Rubbish. I am not advocating speeding or breaking the law. I am pointing out that tens of thousands of natives and tourists in Florida drive unintelligently. Common sense says that if other vehicles are stacked up behind you, get out of the way. Common sense says that you cannot single-handedly enforce the speed limit. Common sense says let the troopers enforce the law.

Yes, we have the right to drive slower than the regular flow of traffic. But we do not have the right to impede the flow of traffic. Left-lane rogues do not have the right to endanger the lives of other people because of their personal agendas. Simply stated, moving out of the way of fellow motorists is common sense _ and common courtesy.

I like what Minnesota state Sen. Dick Day, a former trucker, said after the Senate passed the left-lane bill: “If you want to be a fascist and say, “I own the road; I’m going to sit here forever,’ that’s crazy. I know people who are going to say this allows people to go faster than the speed limit. And some people are going to go a little faster. But if you’re a person who wants to go 60, move over to the right and let them go. Don’t worry about them. Turn on the radio and enjoy yourself. The other guy is the one who’s going to get the ticket.”

None of this is rocket science. Just common sense.