Clueless in the left lane

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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.” –Jon Osterberg, spokesman, PEMCO Insurance

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I feel pretty safe stating that most truckers out there believe there’s widespread ignorance among four-wheelers (and among some of their big rig brethren, too) concerning the rules of the road.

Now we’ve got evidence to back it up.

PEMCO Insurance, based in the great state of Washington in the Pacific Northwest (about as far from that “other Washington,” as in our nation’s capital, as you can get) recently conducted a survey with the help of polling firms FBK Research in Seattle.

Their goal was to try and explain what the company described as “a phenomenon that vexes many drivers: why it seems that highways are clogged with ‘left-lane campers,’ the people who drive continuously in the passing lane of multilane roadways, obstructing traffic.”

“We didn’t have a premise or expectation going into this poll,” Jon Osterberg, PEMCO’s spokesman, told me by email. “We simply wanted to gauge drivers’ behavior.”

Here’s what they found after polling drivers from across the state of Washington: some 43% of them don't know that impeding the flow of traffic in the left lane is against the law. Yes, you heard that right: not only is hanging out in the left lane incorrect driving behavior to start with, it’s actually ILLEGAL in Washington, as in you’ll get a ticket for doing so.

“Some people have asked if we actually stop drivers for staying in the left lane, and we absolutely do," noted Sergeant J.J. Gundermann of the Washington State Patrol. “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.”

He added that Section 46.61.100 of the Revised Code of Washington explains that “all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane available for traffic upon all roadways having two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction,” with the only exceptions to the law include overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow.

“Personally, I was surprised that so many drivers – 43% – don’t know that impeding traffic is illegal in Washington,” PEMCO’s Osterberg told me. “Yet it might explain why so many people in Washington stick to the left lane. Drivers out here often call the left lane the ‘fast lane,’ but instead they should recognize it’s really the ‘passing lane.’ Thus, if you’re not passing, move over.”

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PEMCO’s survey of some 601 drivers also found that nearly nine out of 10 of them regularly see folks “camping out” in the left lane, seemingly oblivious to or unconcerned with the traffic jam building behind them. However, an equal amount of drivers – 90% – denied impeding traffic themselves in the poll, leaving just 9% of Washington drivers who self-identify as someone who blocks freeway traffic from passing in the left lane, at least some of the time.

Of those who admit to blocking traffic in the left lane, younger drivers outnumber their older counterparts two to one, with 17% of those under 35 knowingly “camping” in the left lane compared to 7% of those 35 and older.

PEMCO found that when faced with the prospect of a slow-moving vehicle in front of them, almost a quarter of respondents say that flashing their vehicle's headlights is the most effective way to encourage left-lane violators to change lanes.

When the roles are reversed, one-third of drivers agree that flashing headlights or tailgating would be the most likely way to encourage them to change lanes.

About a quarter of respondents agree that the least effective method is for other drivers to use hand gestures, and younger drivers find it particularly ineffective to tap on a car's horn, with 23% of younger drivers chose horn-honking as the least effective method compared to 13% of those 35 and older.

“Although left-lane violations don't cause a lot of collisions, they cause driver frustration, which is distracting,” said Sergeant Gundermann. “But 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.”

Just goes to show we've got a lot of ground to cover in terms of getting our fellow motorists up to speed on the rules of the road; especially those applying to the left lane.

What's Trucks at Work?

Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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