Why It’s Actually Illegal to Just Drive in the Left Lane

Each of us probably has our own driving style: some like it slow, some are by-the-book, and others drive to arrive. For those in the latter category, the left lane is probably your fave, with all its speed-friendly glory. That is, until you run up behind a car that’s casually cruising and doing 60 in a 65 like there’s no one else on the road. Unfazed by all the sudden braking behind them, and all the traffic signs that read “SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT,” this type of driver continues to bop along to their own rhythm.

The zig-zagging around him and the high-beam flashes don’t make him budge. Mucking up the flow of traffic makes no difference— until he gets pulled over. Take note slowpokes, it’s time for a different strategy. It can be frustrating for other drivers, but it also can be dangerous for everyone on the road.

If you remember taking your driver’s test, then you’ll remember there being something in the book about the left lane being for passing. Yes folks! There are only about five states that don’t have penalties for misusing the left lane, and some states have instituted newer laws with harsher penalties for those who break them. In this video below from Vox, the narrator shares that he was pulled over for going too slow while driving in the left lane on the highway. He didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong. What he discovered was that hindering the natural flow of traffic actually leads to more accidents.

Diagram of slow driving in left lane.Vox

Drivers going faster than average tend to stick to the left lane for moving and passing, but when approaching a slower car, they have to shift right to pass. Such a move can be quick and dangerous. This dangerous move can increase the possibility of an accident happening due to switching lanes suddenly and/or frequently. States designed their left lane laws with this possibility in mind to decrease congestion and lane weaving that is often caused by slow drivers on the left. It’s considered blocking in many states, and troopers are cracking down on these drivers that cause long lines of cars to pile up behind them. In most areas, the laws indicate that slower drivers in the left lane must always yield to faster traffic, no matter how fast the other drivers are going. The language of the rules stick to the theory that “normal speed of traffic” may not necessarily mean the speed limit. On average, it’s faster.

Map depicting states with left lane passing laws.Vox

To curb the incidence of accidents, frustrated drivers, and snail chains in the left lane, it’s suggested sticking to the right lane is the wisest course of action unless you are passing. It can also help you avoid a ticket. Citing the German Autobahn as an example, left lane courtesy is extended as a means to keep traffic flowing safely. Though the speed limit is unrestricted only in certain sections of the Autobahn, drivers take the left-lane passing rule seriously, which is part of the reason why there are fewer road fatalities in Germany than the U.S. To put it squarely, no matter where you live, obey the traffic laws to be safe— even if that means moving over. What your thoughts? Which group of drivers do you belong to? Tell us in the comments!