I log a lot of highway miles each year, which provides ample time to contemplate life and the world’s many mysteries.[i] During a serious recent roadtrip (22 hours of roundtrip driving in 64 hours) my thoughts fell back on a column I wrote six years ago, exploring an enigma that is impossible to avoid when one is grinding their way down the interstate: what is wrong with all these people creeping along in the left lane?!
In “Keep to the Right!” I decried the lack of compliance with state law here in Delaware and across the country, the all-too-common practice of left lane loping (or loafing, or lingering) wherein drivers blissfully slug along in the left lane, blocking other law-abiding chauffeurs from using the lane as it was intended, for passing slower traffic.
Just about every state, Delaware included, has laws restricting use of the left lane for faster-moving traffic. Eleven states actually forbid driving in the left lane for anything other than passing or turning.
Clearly many drivers are simply unaware of this crucial roadway rule. The two teenage drivers in our household tell me the law certainly didn’t get much if any attention in their driver’s ed classes.
While that is an unfortunate mistake, you’d think that after a few years of experience behind the wheel most Americans would figure out that they should obviously stick to the right unless they were passing, right?
That may be annoying to people like me, but you may be asking, with all the crazy things going on this world, what is the big deal?
Left lane loping is a serious problem because it causes unnecessary traffic, impeding the free flow of people and goods on our roadways and causing dangerous conditions. More than 90 percent of Americans drive to work, and well over 3.5 million of us either drive trucks for a living or have a job that involves driving full-time. Of course millions more are simply going to pick up the kids or see grandma. With so many of us on the road for important reasons, traffic is a blight, with serious economic and social consequences including lost time and productivity, increased stress, fuel consumption and emissions, and, of course, more hazardous and deadly roads.
This VOX video effectively demonstrates all the knock-on effects of left lane loping, concluding with the assessment that appropriate left-lane behavior makes the German Autobahn much quicker and safer to navigate than American highways.
So what to do?
Michigan annually cracks down on left lane scofflaws, with a “South Paw Initiative” (har har) focused on educating the public on the law and nabbing offenders who don’t get it. Officials there say most people are simply unaware of the rule. Earlier this year other states like Washington have rolled out ticketing campaigns for “camping” on the left.
Our Delaware code, Title 21, Chapter 41 (Rules of the Road), Subchapter III (“Driving on Right Side of Roadway; Overtaking and Passing, etc.”) states:
(a) Upon all roadways of sufficient width a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway, except as follows: (1) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing such movement….
(b) Upon all roadways any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
This critical law should be on the short list of essentials every new driver should know.
It is possible that someday soon the problem will go away when self-driving cars take over our highways. Presumably such vehicles will be programmed correctly, unlike so many spacey left-lane auto jockeys admiring the scenery.
But as we head toward the summer months when many of us will be hitting Rte. 1 en route to festivals, races and the beach, Delaware State Police should set a national example and send out the word that they won’t tolerate slowpokes clogging traffic by selfishly squatting in the left lane.
[i] According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average American drives 13,400 miles per year. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/onh00/bar8.htm