As of November 1, 2019, if you’re riding in the left lane without passing another car in Alabama, you’ll be pulled over and issued a citation. The new law goes into effect as a means of combating road rage. “Oftentimes left lane drivers is the main or if not one of the main causes of road rage incidents on the interstates,” Alabama State Trooper Curtis Summerville told WHNT News.
It is — as the trooper suggests — infuriating to attempt to pass a slower traffic in the middle lane, only to be held up by a left lane parker dawdling along at 62 miles per hour. Other countries have figured out that the left lane is for passing. Why is it that so many Americans have trouble figuring this out?
Part of the issue is the wide disparity in laws and enforcement in the 50 states. In Germany, there’s one uniform code for travel on the Autobahn, and a dedicated police force — armed with the latest technology to monitor traffic — keeps the traffic flowing. In the United States, speed limits and laws are regulated by the states and enforced by state police or highway patrol.
But there’s a cultural issue, too. On the Autobahn there seems to be a culture of cooperation. Why would you want to be in the way of a car passing at over 100 miles per hour? In Germany, hanging out in the left lane isn’t just risking a ticket for poor driving. The offense is seen as coercion and can result in stiffer penalties.
In the United States the attitude seems to be “Get into the left lane as quickly as possible and stay there,” but laws are changing to make it a punishable offense.
But the laws in many states are clear. Colorado’s Left Lane Law states: “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle in the passing lane of a highway if the speed-limit is sixty-five miles per hour or more unless such person is passing other motor-vehicles that are in a non-passing lane.”
In Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey and Washington, on any highway with three or more lanes, the left-most lane is dedicated to passing ONLY. In those states, drivers must remain in the right lanes except for passing, regardless of how many lanes of traffic are available, except when obeying “Move Over” laws enacted to help avoid collisions with emergency vehicles stopped in the breakdown lane.
In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois, it’s illegal to fail to move to the right if a vehicle behind is attempting to pass. However, in states like Colorado and Kentucky, that’s only true when the highway speed is 65 miles per hour or higher.
South Dakota stands alone as the only one of 50 states that has no laws regarding Lane Discipline.
Regardless of the law in South Dakota, can we all agree to adopt the BestRide Code of Lane Discipline?
- On a two-lane highway, stay in the right lane, except to pass or to use a left exit.
- On a three- or more lane highway, use the right lane to enter and exit the highway, and use the left lane for passing only.
- When passing a vehicle, signal your merge into the passing lane. Once you’ve passed, signal your merge back into the travel lane.
- If you’re in the passing lane and a faster vehicle approaches behind, move to the right as soon as possible.
- Do not attempt to block or obstruct passing traffic in the passing lane.
At the bare minimum, check your local laws to understand what the leftmost lane is for in your state. We’ll all enjoy a much more pleasant time on the highway.