Driving too slowly in the left lane of a multilane interstate highway presents a danger to other motorists, causes accidents and violates the law in most states.
Many drivers don’t realize that driving too slowly in the far left lane of an interstate violates the law in approximately 38 U.S. states. Police can stop and ticket drivers who linger in the left lane. Depending on the state, fines range up to $1000. Many states add up charges, bringing habitual offender status to repeat offenders who may face misdemeanor charges and see their drivers’ licenses suspended.
When driving on the highway, it’s common practice to move over to the left lane to pass slower traffic. Many states designate the left lane the “passing lane” or the “overtaking lane”, and the law allows use of the left lane while attempting to pass other vehicles. New Hampshire and Massachusetts are among states where driving in the left lane when not passing violates the law. Whether it’s enforced or not, that’s the law.
Left Lane Laws State By State
New Hampshire law requires drivers to keep to the right lanes when their speed is slower than surrounding traffic. The law, New Hampshire RSA Chapter 265:16 specifies that slower traffic must keep to the right lanes unless turning left, overtaking another vehicle, or traveling faster than other vehicles on the right.
Massachusetts law requires drivers to always keep right unless turning or passing. M.G.L. c. 89, Section 2 mandates that drivers passing other vehicles traveling the same direction must pass on the left. Section 4B of the same law requires motor vehicle operators to always operate in the right lane, unless overtaking another vehicle, then the operator may move into the left lane to pass, then move back into the right lane after the overtaking is completed.
A majority of states follow one of the above legal models. Here’s the link to a You Tube video with more on left lane laws and why compliance is important:
Stubborn drivers who refuse to get out of the left lane even when not passing cause accidents. Right or wrong, other drivers become frustrated with vehicles that refuse to get out of the left lane, and may tailgate the stubborn vehicle. Other drivers who wish to pass the slower vehicle in the far left lane pass on the right to get around the vehicle refusing to move over.
As one high-mileage driver put it:
“…there are basically two types of highway drivers: Those who gesture angrily at slow drivers in the left lane, and those who use the left lane as a leisurely sightseeing thoroughfare.”
Emily Pickard, The Dangers of Driving Slow in the Left Lane, Mayfair Rent a Car.com
Five Reasons to Use The Left Lane for Passing Only
The far left lane of the Interstate is also known as the “fast lane”, the “passing lane”, even the “over-taking lane”. Here are five reasons to follow the left lane laws:
- Less Likely To Be In An Accident. When cars in the left lane do not obstruct other vehicles, traffic flows more smoothly. With the smooth flow of traffic, tailgating and weaving in and out of lanes are reduced. So, there are fewer accidents.
- Better Gas Mileage. Engines use the most fuel when accelerating. Less acceleration followed by braking will improve fuel economy.
- You’ll Get To Your Destination Faster. It might seem illogical but yielding to faster traffic actually reduces congestion. And when traffic flows smoothly, highway capacity is utilized to the fullest extent possible, and travel times improve.
- Less Likelihood of Road Rage. “Left lane hogs” without argument irritate other drivers. The simple act of moving to the right and not blocking traffic can eliminate driver stress and conflict.
- Reduced Chances of Tickets and Fines. The law is the law. Violators as pointed out previously in this article, can face hefty fines, sometimes up to $1,000, or even license suspension.
Adapted from “Go-Lane Vs. the Slo Lane”, Legends of America.com
Passing on the right and tailgating present dangers of their own, increasing the risk of an accident. So the driver insisting on driving in the left lane even when not passing creates dangerous driving, whether they’re simply stubborn, or whether they are not aware of the existence of left lane driving laws. Either way, it is important for all drivers to understand left lane driving regulations not only in their own state, but in states into which they travel.
Statistics Confirm Dangers of Remaining in the Left Lane
U.S. Highways see approximately 6.1 million crashes every year. Lane changes and merges cause 244,000 or 4% of those crashes. The numbers, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, lead to the conclusion that two major causes of accidents are changing lanes and slowing down to go around slower drivers.
Fewer accidents take place in the far left lane of multi-lane highways than in the other lanes to the right. NHTSA research points to speeding as the primary cause of 30% of all fatal highway crashes. Since the left lane is usually the fastest, when accidents do occur the injuries sustained are typically more severe or result in death.
Why Left Lane Hogging Poses Danger
While drivers and passengers are generally safest at lower speeds than speeders, driving too slowly in the far left lane increases the chances of a rear-end collision.
“When you’re traveling on the highway, the moment at which you’re most at risk of getting into a crash is when you’re changing lanes.”
Freelance science reporter Joseph Stromberg
The risk is greater because the faster drivers approach too quickly, and do not have enough time to slow down before impact.
Far Left Lane For Passing Only
When the left lane is used strictly for passing, drivers face less likelihood of having to dangerously slow their speed then move over, or attempt to pass in a lane where traffic is entering the roadway. Therefore, safety is increased when drivers are able to expect that the left lane is for faster drivers, and the slower traffic stays to the right. Left lane restrictions were enacted because it is much more dangerous to slowdown and change lanes than it is to move into a fast travel lane, without changing speed, then move back into the right lane after passing has been completed.
When slower drivers try to police people and refuse to move over because they are traveling at the posted speed limit, they put themselves and all surrounding vehicles at risk of a collision. All drivers need to show courtesy and move to the right when a vehicle behind them wants to drive faster. Practicing courtesy for other drivers prevents road rage, frustration, and the need for other drivers to weave between lanes, keeping everyone safe. Aside from ensuring safety, roadway courtesy helps maintain the free flow of traffic, and prevent congestion on the roadway.
“Why You Shouldn’t Drive Slowly in the Left Lane”, Vox [link above].
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, State Keep Right Laws.
“Driving Slow in the Left Lane is Dumb and Illegal”, Auto Insurance Center.