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Those happy campers in the left lane

Only 9% of drivers in a recent poll said they regularly camp in the passing lane. So why is it often blocked by slowpokes?

By MSN Money Partner Jul 21, 2011 12:12PM

This post comes from Des Toups at partner site


June was "Lane Courtesy Month." Did you notice?


The battle for the highway's left lane has raged for decades and, despite well-intentioned efforts to clarify laws and unclog the passing lane, has become part of the fabric of urban life.


Regional insurer Pemco acknowledges as much in the most recent addition to its long-running ad campaign, "Northwest Profile No. 51: Oblivious Left Lane Occupant":


"It matters not how many honks, high beams or dirty looks he receives, because he's in his own little world, a world where 'Speed Limit 60' can actually mean 51, and the words 'Stay Right Except to Pass' are merely a suggestion," the announcer intones. "Perhaps it's the breathtaking mountain view, or maybe it's the continuous soft hits on the radio, or maybe he thinks this is London, England -- if he thinks at all.


"Oblivious Left Lane Occupant, you're one of us. And like you, we're happy right where we are."


On Wednesday, the insurer released a lane-usage survey of 601 Washington state drivers. Its findings:

  • 86% agreed that the left lane should be reserved for faster traffic.
  • 89% said they often or sometimes see the left lane blocked.
  • 9% identified themselves as someone who camps in the left lane.
  • 43% said blocking the left lane was not a ticketable offense.

Lane-blocking is in fact a ticketable offense in Washington, carrying a $42 fine, as it is in most states. (Pemco treats the violation as it would any other minor offense, such as a seat-belt ticket, and it would have the same effect on insurance rates.) Even states that don't reserve the left lane on free-flowing highways for passing usually have some sort of slower-traffic-keep-right law on the books. In some states, the law applies even if the other guy is speeding -- that's his ticket to worry about. Post continues after video.

"Some people have asked if we actually stop drivers for staying in the left lane, and we absolutely do," Sgt.  J.J. Gundermann of the Washington State Patrol told Pemco. "The Legislature's intent is for the left lane to be used as a passing lane, and ultimately some people need a ticket to get them to comply."


"If almost half of drivers don't know that left-lane camping is illegal, that might explain why it seems so common on our freeways," Pemco spokesperson Jon Osterberg said. "Perhaps we simply need to increase awareness."


If you're a driver waging a one-man awareness campaign, Pemco's survey says Washington drivers are most likely to respond to a flash of the headlights (34%) or tailgating (33%). They are least likely to respond to tailgating (32%) or to "hand gestures" (28%).


"Italian-style heavy tailgating flashing doesn't seem to work well in the U.S.," says "Traffic" author and columnist Tom Vanderbilt. "We like our rights: our rights to have that lane to ourselves, but also our right not to be bullied out of it."


Here's what the National Motorists Association -- proclaimer of Lane Courtesy Month -- recommends:

  • The driver of a faster vehicle in the left lane should signal their desire to move past a slower vehicle in the left lane by turning on their left directional light for a few seconds.
  • The operator of the slower vehicle should acknowledge this request by turning on their right directional light and merging right as quickly as possible without slowing down.
  • If the slower driver fails to respond, the faster driver should briefly flash their headlights to catch the slower driver's attention. Ideally, the slower driver will then merge right.

Sgt. Gundermann advises only patience. "We strongly discourage drivers from taking any action -- like flashing headlights or tailgating -- when they're stuck behind a left-lane camper. These actions can promote road rage and rarely get other drivers to change their behavior."


More on and MSN Money:

Jul 21, 2011 3:58PM

Driving on I-5 in Washington State. Dumb A$$ in left lane with old travel trailer going 60 in a 70 zone. Stayed there for miles...  I finally moved to the right lane and passed. Guess what? Yep, the trooper pulled me over for passing on the right. I asked what about the travel trailer in the left lane - isn't that illegal. He said it's not my business. I broke the law by passing on the right. $100+ ticket.


I say common courtesy (and common sense!) is to move to the right except when passing.

Jul 21, 2011 4:05PM
I've never understood the vigilante mentality of those who think because they are going the speed limit in the passing lane they shouldn't have to move over for a vehicle wanting to pass them. If you are going the speed limit and passing someone (the purpose of the lane), fine. If you are going the speed limit in the left lane but not passing someone, move over. Speeding is no more and no less illegal than remaining in the left lane while not in the act of passing someone.
Jul 21, 2011 3:59PM

This also goes for the carpool lane. Just beacause there is a carpool lane, it does not mean the lane to the right is the slow lane. That is STILL the FAST lane. Move the hell over if you are going to go slower than the traffic on the right.



Jul 21, 2011 3:59PM
To DVDDRRtty - I am a woman, who on my way to work this morning was "stuck" behind a car in the left lane and a car in the right lane, both traveling at 7 MPH below the posted speed limit, one of them talking on his cell phone.  Therefore, this article has a lot of meaning to me.
Jul 21, 2011 5:10PM
My mother used to be one of those left lane hogs.  One day when I was riding in the car with her, she was doing the speed limit in the passing lane, but not passing.  I said nicely that there were people behind her [there were about 5 or 6 cars behind her] Shen snapped at me and  said that the speed limit was 55!!!  Guess what?  I finally snapped back and told her to pull over and do it now!!! , when she did I looked at her and she said "What?" I said 'See, it didn't kill you to pull over now, did it?"  I also said that the biggest cause of road rage was people like her that wouldn't pull over, and that someday someone might get really pissed and do her harm.  I also said that it was called a passing lane for a reason; TO PASS!!! I think a $500 fine for sitting in the passing lane would do wonders.
Jul 21, 2011 4:46PM
the left lane is for passing only! i'll admit, i sometimes forget to get back over, but i'm always constantly looking in my mirrors and 99% of the time notice if a car is approaching me in the left lane and i get back over. sorry for that 1% of people, but i do notice you within the next minute!... the worst though is when you are stuck behind a car in the left and a car in the right and they are BOTH going UNDER the speed limit and no ones passing the other and there's a line of like 200 cars behind each!!!! so annoying! sometimes i wish my trailblazer had a brushguard so i could just push them faster... maybe just push them off the road mwuhahahaha... or if there's a merging lane on the left and you're going 20mph faster than the guy merging so you have to either pass and hope they don't hit you or hit the brakes and let them in and be stuck behind them. it's called merging! you speed up to how fast the traffic is going so there's a seemless entry for you. if everyone's going 90, then merge at 90! merging at 60 while everyone's going 90 will only cause major problems!!!
Jul 21, 2011 5:09PM

I sincerely hope the people who are posting from the "pro-camping in the left lane" group come back here and look at how many thumbs-down their inane comments warrant... and then MAYBE think, "hey, well whaddya know?  I couldn't possibly be MORE wrong!"

It really is simple folks, it isn't about SPEED, it is about PASSING.  Left lane is for PASSING, irrespective of speed. 

It goes a little something like this:  Cruise in the right lane, accelerate and merge into the left lane to PASS, then merge right and resume whatever speed you choose.


Your obstinance about not merging, especially when you've been signaled to get out of the way only causes problems...

YOU are the ones causing tailgating

YOU are contributing to road rage

YOU are inducing someone to merge RIGHT to pass (illegal many places, dangerous in every place)

YOU are in the wrong...

YOU are making the world a more dangerous place by just being in it.


Yes, if you are going the speed limit, you are doing the right thing.  Just do it in the right lane.  PLEASE.




Jul 21, 2011 4:24PM

The left lane is meant for passing. Occasionally, in order to pass you have to accelerate above the posted speed limit. Speeding is a personal choice, if that driver wants to speed in the left lane then they can face the consequences. The drivers whom sit in the left lane are impeding the flow of traffic. If the speed is posted as 65mph, that is what's expected. If you want to go less than the speed limit then do that in the right lane. Just because you are doing the speed limit doesn't mean you have the right to block other people. What if that person was rushing a loved one to the hospital? Are you going to sit in their way to "teach them a lesson"? Or, are you going to move out of the way so they can reach medical care?  Don't assume every driver who wants to pass you is an a**hole. Allow the left lane to remain open so that people can take their turn to pass others as they have the right to do.

Jul 21, 2011 5:12PM

Passing lane hogs don't understand that they are more dangerous than a speeding driver.

Jul 21, 2011 4:50PM
For you left lane huggers, just because you are going the speed limit and you feel you the right to drive in the left lane you are showing a lack of consideration for other drivers. This could cause traffic to bunch up, drivers getting angry, someone doing something stupid, which  could cause an accident, also if you need to get off the road quickly you can do so easier if you are traveling in the right lane. The lelt lane is for passing and faster drivers because unfortunately many people don't obey the speed limit laws.
Jul 21, 2011 4:29PM

Hey QUIET300

The left lane is for PASSING not cruising cross country. Use it to go around a vehicle and then return to the right lane.

You have no more right to break the law by cruising in the left lane that the speeder you so detest has to exceed the speed limit.

You think it is OK for you to break the law but no one else, typical left lane mentality.

Jul 21, 2011 4:44PM

The Uniform Vehicle Code states:

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 ...

Note that this law refers to the "normal" speed of traffic, not the "legal" speed of traffic. The 60 MPH driver in a 55 MPH zone where everybody else is going 65 MPH must move right.

Jul 21, 2011 4:29PM
I would never perpetrate and act of violence over something that happens on the road.  But, I'll cheer someone else for taking action if they somehow can't take it anymore.  You camp out in the left lane and don't move for faster traffic and someone goes off on you at an intersection later?  Well, it's your fault.  Get the hell over. 
Jul 21, 2011 4:30PM
Most of the people I see camping in the left lane are using their phone and are absolutely clueless of what is going on around them.
Passing on the right sounds like a good idea, except here in Ct it is illegal except where there are 3 lanes. My feeling is this, if I, or someone else wants to go 75, 80, or more who am I or you to stop them? It is my ticket, my fine, my insurance, my problem in other words it doesn't concern you in any way. 
Jul 21, 2011 4:23PM
To SOMEONE- It is illegal to pass on the right, so move the hell over...If people want to speed, let them go by. Otherwise they are making unnecessary moves to get past that can be dangerous. It is people like you that cause accidents.
Jul 21, 2011 4:25PM
All you people who think & say that your performing a public service by staying in the passing lane, doing the speed limit, preventing others from speeding or breaking the law better understand that that is EXACTLY what your doing by staying in the passing lane, doing the speed limit, preventing others from passing you. YOU are breaking the law as well!
Jul 21, 2011 4:54PM
Camp out in the far left lane in jackson, Mississippi if you want, thinking you own the road or trying to be cute.  You might end up facing the wrong direction in the medium.  people will flat out ride your bumper and HOPE you hit the breaks.  They will push you off the road.  lol
Jul 21, 2011 5:05PM
Left lane is for passing if your not passing EVERYONE get out of it!!!
Jul 21, 2011 4:16PM
It's dimwits like Sheriden that cause accidents. Impeding Traffic much, fool? I'll wager you do. You deserve to get run over.
Jul 21, 2011 4:37PM

And 90% of them are self entitled Pricks driving Subaru's.

Trying to FORCE everyone to drive the posted speed limit.

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