This month, “Ask a Trooper” is focusing on left-lane driving. One of the Washington State Patrol’s main goals is to educate citizens on the importance of highway safety— that’s why Lieutenant Mark Tegard sat down to answer some general and user-submitted questions on left-lane driving.
Q: What is the left lane driving law?
A: According to the law, RCW 46.61.100(2), “Upon all roadways having two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction, all vehicles shall be driven in the right hand lane then available for traffic, except for overtaking and passing another vehicle in the same direction, when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow, when moving left to allow traffic to merge or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit or into a private road or driveway when such left turn is legally permitted.”
Or more simply: Keep right, except to pass.
Q: Can you speed in the left lane to pass someone?
A: While the left lane may be considered the “passing” lane, the posted speed limit still applies!
On multi-way roads you cannot speed in the left lane just to pass someone. The left lane is meant for those who wish to travel at the set speed limit to pass slower moving traffic.
For example, if you are in a 60 mph zone, it is illegal to go 70 mph in the left lane to get around someone traveling at 55 mph in the right lane. You must travel at 60 mph in the left lane until you can safely pass the slower moving vehicle.
However on a two-way road (meaning a roadway with one lane going in each direction), it is legal to surpass the speed limit in order to safely move around a slower moving vehicle. It is expected you slow back down to the posted speed limit once you have passed the slower moving vehicle.
Q: Are commercial vehicles allowed to use the left lane to pass? If so, are they supposed to follow the slower truck speed limit?
A: The same rules for passing in the left lane as stated above apply here.
According to RCW 46.61.100(3), “No vehicle towing a trailer or no vehicle or combination over ten thousand pounds may be driven in the left-hand lane of a limited access roadway having three or more lanes for traffic moving in one direction except when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit, or into a private road or driveway when a left turn is legally permitted. This subsection does not apply to a vehicle using a high occupancy vehicle lane. A high occupancy vehicle lane is not considered the left-hand lane of a roadway. The department of transportation, in consultation with the Washington state patrol, shall adopt rules specifying (a) those circumstances where it is permissible for other vehicles to use the left lane in case of emergency or to facilitate the orderly flow of traffic, and (b) those segments of limited access roadway to be exempt from this subsection due to the operational characteristics of the roadway.”
Q: What are the consequences of left lane driving?
A: A driver who is trying to pass a left lane camper will often times start weaving through all lanes necessary to pass them. It opens the door for reckless and aggressive driving…and it puts every person on the road at risk.
Q: Does the Washington State Patrol issue tickets for left lane camping?
A: Yes, the WSP issued nearly 14,000 tickets for left lane driving last year.
Q: How much is a left-lane driving fine?
A: A left lane ticket can cost you $136.
Q: The law requires a driver who is “holding up traffic” with several cars directly behind to pull over and let the traffic pass. If the driver is going below the speed limit, it makes sense. However, if the driver is traveling at the speed limit, are they still obligated to let traffic pass — traffic that wants to exceed the speed limit?
A: Basically, yes.
We certainly don’t want to support travelling in excess of the posted speed, but the legislature basically addressed this with the last line of the law…a slow moving vehicle is one which is proceeding at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place.