Thursday, September 9, 2010

Apparently Many Drivers Have Forgotten That The Left Lane Is For Passing

My former pet peeve about local drivers is that so many of them won't get over and let you merge when you try to enter the freeway. I'm moving on from that though. My new pet peeve is people who drive in the left lane- sometimes barely going the speed limit.

I had noticed it in the past, but hadn't really thought that much about it until some friends in town from Western Washington recently pointed it out to me. Since then, I can't count the times I've been stuck in a stream of traffic in the left lane while some clown in the lead does 58 miles per hour and won't change to the middle lane. So this is my campaign to get the word out- CHANGE LANES. Tell your friends please.


Steve said...

My new pet peeve is people who drive in the left lane- sometimes barely going the speed limit.

Since then, I can't count the times I've been stuck in a stream of traffic in the left lane while some clown in the lead does 58 miles per hour and won't change to the middle lane.

The distance from I-90 @ Sullivan to I-90 @ Hwy 195 is 12.5 miles. That takes 12m30s at 60 miles per hour. It takes 12m56s at 58 miles per hour. So the result is that the clown driving 58 miles per hour costs you an extra 26 seconds driving from Sullivan to Hwy 195, because you surely aren't advocating that someone driving the speed limit in the left lane should move out of the way so that you can go faster than the speed limit ... are you?

vanillajane said...

Steve, the point is this: the left lane is for PASSING ONLY. It is not a lane for drivers to camp out and just drive in. What that means is you only use the left lane to pass and when you are done passing you merge back into the right lane. That is Washington State law, RCW 46.61.100. Subsection four of this RCW states, "It is a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multilane roadway when it impedes the flow of other traffic." It's too bad this law isn't enforced as much as others, because it is a safety issue.

Furthermore, it is not against the law to exceed the speed limit when passing another vehicle.

Spokane has a lot of drivers that seem uneducated about this truth.

Steve said...


I recognize the point of the original post, but the tone of the original post suggests that the poster is annoyed by drivers who drive the speed limit in the left lane. The implication is that the poster wants to travel faster than those vehicles, which implies a sustained rate of travel higher than the posted speed limit. A sustained rate of travel higher than the speed limit is not legal -- period.

Furthermore, it is NOT legal to exceed the speed limit when passing another vehicle in this situation. Here's the law:

"...a person following a vehicle driving at less than the legal maximum speed and desiring to pass such vehicle may exceed the speed limit, subject to the provisions of RCW 46.61.120 on highways having only one lane of traffic in each direction, at only such a speed and for only such a distance as is necessary to complete the pass with a reasonable margin of safety." (RCW 46.61.425)

The truth is that RCW 46.61.425 doesn't apply in this situation.

The reality is that as freeway loads increase it becomes necessary to use the left lane to safely accommodate the number of vehicles on the roadway. RCW 46.61.100 (2) anticipates this by requiring vehicles to use "the right-hand lane then available for traffic." On a reasonably full freeway it is completely legal to have a vehicle traveling 60 MPH in the left lane and it is unfortunate that the number of vehicles on the freeway makes it difficult for drivers who desire to exceed the posted speed limit.

vanillajane said...

So the issue is one of context, right? Do you think a reasonable person would be annoyed by someone in the left lane going 58 during rush hour when cars are bottle-necked? I doubt it. They would be happy the traffic is actually moving.

The annoyance comes when people camp out in the left lane going 58 when they should not be in the left lane. If this was just fine, they would not have the law to stay right except to pass. Sometimes, I want to pass someone who has a car that smokes. Sometimes I need to pass a hay truck, because my son is allergic to hay and can have an asthma attack.

Anyone should be able to pass this slower driver by going 60, 70, or whatever the speed limit is or slightly higher to get past them. My husband and I just visited Texas last February and they don't even allow semi-trucks into the left lane at all. They have a lower speed limit for trucks and it was a breeze to pass slower moving traffic.

SRTC Staff said...

Steve- my first concern was safety when posting that thread. I've seen so many people riding bumpers in the left lane lately that there have been several times when one little tap of the breaks would have caused a pileup. A car trying to pass gets right up on the car going 58 to let them know they want to get by. The car going 58 doesn't heed the message and other cars stack up behind. The driver on my bus route has even done this before. Pretty soon its an accident waiting to happen, and no one wants a bus coming through the back of their car.

No, I'm not advocating speeding, although there is something to be said about going with the flow of traffic, also to avoid accidents. I apologize if I came across that way. And yes, I will admit that I get irritated with the situation. That's just because I'm human though :)

SRTC Staff said...

Steve- for some reason your post isn't publishing so I'm doing it for you:

I doubt we'll ever reach a middle ground, so here are my thoughts before I call it good to try and avoid devolving into an argument:

My base premise is that most drivers annoyed by someone going 58 in the left lane -- as opposed to someone going 59 :) -- are annoyed because they want to exceed the speed limit. The irritation comes because they were happily tooling along at 65 and suddenly have to slow down to the speed limit because the driver in front of them is obeying the speed limit. I don't have a lot of sympathy for their irritation.

There are definite safety issues when this happens. I personally think the most dangerous thing on the freeway is a police car traveling the speed limit. The higher-speed traffic behind the car slows down as it approaches because no one wants to be the person who passes and gets pulled over. This creates a moving 60 MPH wall and the higher-speed traffic behind that wall starts to pile up. Vehicles further back start jockeying for position and trying to pass because they want to get past the knot of traffic and create a serious safety hazard while trying to move forward.

My interpretation of the original post's premise is that you should get out of the left lane because you're driving the speed limit and holding me up. ("I can't count the times I've been stuck in a stream of traffic in the left lane while some clown in the lead does 58 miles per hour")

The point where a freeway is "theoretically full" and the left lane should start filling with cars comes a lot earlier than you would expect.

A Toyota Camry is 15.8 feet long. Sixty MPH is 88 feet per second and the Washington Driver Guide recommends a four second following distance at freeway speeds, which translates to 352 feet. I don't know anyone who leaves 352 feet on the freeway, so I'll shorten that to a two second following distance of 176 feet. That means that a Camry traveling 60 MPH on the freeway should "occupy" about 192 feet of roadway.

Here's a 1/2 mile section of freeway in Boise that is "full" at 60 MPH. Zoom in and look at the vehicle density and then consider that there should be vehicles at the speed limit traveling (not passing) in the left lane.

Some final thoughts:

* Washington requires semis to stay out of the left lane: "No vehicle towing a trailer or no vehicle or combination over ten thousand pounds may be driven in the left-hand lane of a limited access roadway having three or more lanes for traffic moving in one direction except when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit, or into a private road or driveway when a left turn is legally permitted." (RCW 46.61.100)

* The bus driver shouldn't have been in the left lane. STA doesn't have a bus under 10,000 pounds and "no vehicle over ten thousand pounds may be driven in the left-hand lane of a limited access roadway having three or more lanes for traffic." There's no exception that would apply on the freeway, even if he thinks he needs to pass someone in the middle lane.

* On a multi-lane freeway, there is no exception that allows you to exceed the speed limit to pass another driver. None. End of story.

* Life would be a lot easier if everyone obeyed the traffic laws. Stay to the right. Don't exceed the speed limit. Don't tailgate on the freeway, even when the person in front of you is doing the speed limit and you're riding his bumper and flashing your brights so you can pass.

SRTC Staff said...

Interesting point about the police car situation Steve. I actually heard that situation referred to as a 'fairy ring' by someone I work with in law enforcemnt occasionally. Didn't realize it has a name.

I also called the bus driver on driving in the left lane. This is the driver who tells us each day how much time he shaved off the trip from the day before, so he apparently isn't too worried about which lane he's in.

I guess, as is common, it comes down to an issue of enforcement when it comes to oversize vehicles in the passing lane.

And you're right, tailgating is never good. But if one driver is doing 58 and everyone else is doing 62, it has the potential to cause problems with those impatient folks (like myself) trying to get around them. Unfortunately, there are always going to be folks like that out there. I guess the best we can do is ask everyone to slow down and follow the laws. And quit flipping each other off. That doesn't do anyone any good.

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