Keep Right: Why "Camping" in the Left Lane Is So Dangerous

On Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill that would make traveling in the left lane for more than 1-1/2 miles without passing a violation. There would be exceptions, such as bad weather and other conditions that make driving the left lane necessary. The bill will now go to the state senate, and if it passes there as easily as it passed in the house, it will go to Governor Kay Ivey's desk for her signature.

I'm a BIG proponent of this law. It's one of my top two pet peeves in traffic (the other is not using a turn signal), but there are issues with camping out in the left lane beyond simple annoyance. It's both a safety issue and a traffic flow issue.

Watch this video from Vox to understand why:


The last time I wrote about this issue was a few years ago, when Florida lawmakers were considering a similar measure. I'll never forget the responses on Facebook, because while some people were all for the measure, the most vocal critics felt that the government shouldn't be telling them what lane to drive in. The argument goes something like this: "As long as I'm driving the speed limit, I shouldn't have to move over." They might even argue that by slowing down speeding drivers, they are making the roads safer.

But the roads actually get more dangerous when people ride the left lane -- even at the speed limit. Because research has shown that speeding is less dangerous than speed variance, which is the difference between one vehicle's speed and the general speed of traffic. In other words, if you're going 70 miles per hour down the interstate, while the general traffic flow is pushing 80, you are posing a greater risk than the drivers going above the speed limit. You increase that risk further by driving in the left lane, which requires other traffic to change lanes and move around you. Lane changes account for up to 10 percent of accidents on the interstate. We've all seen drivers weaving in and out of traffic, and yes, it's annoying and dangerous. But they are much more likely to cause an accident if we don't get out of their way. So let the police enforce the speed limit while the rest of us keep right and let the lead-foot drivers pass.

In Florida, the law that's now on the books makes no mention of speed limits. In a nutshell, it's a keep right, except to pass law. The fine for violating the law in Florida is $179 and three points on your drivers license.

Safety isn't the only priority, though. We all want to get to our destination as quickly as possible, and left lane driving slows down the general traffic flow. It takes a surprisingly small number of vehicles to start a traffic jam. When a vehicle is driving in the left lane and slowing down traffic, next to another slow vehicle on the right, that's going to cause a problem. But when we use the right lane and keep the left lane open for passing, we'll all get to our destinations faster.

I love the name of the Alabama bill. It's called the Anti-Road Rage Bill, because who isn't against road rage? But the law shouldn't really be about keeping the most aggressive drivers calm (although that would be a benefit). It should be about traffic safety and traffic flow. If it passes and is then enforced, Alabama can accomplish all these things.


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