Many drivers have a tendency to forget some of the practical rules of the road they are taught in driving school once they’ve had a few years on the road. This is proven at any given stop sign as the various drivers tend to look around nervously at each other and traffic flow takes on a more traffic light kind of pattern, with two cars moving at once, rather than the instructed process in which the first car to arrive should go first and then proceed in clockwise order (Deimel, 2001). Another commonly ignored rule of the road is the concept that the left lane of the freeway is intended for passing purposes only, but is a rule that should be given more attention.
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The passing lane has perhaps more commonly come to be thought of as the fast lane and many people have taken to driving in it as if it were a regular lane. One of the primary reasons for keeping this lane clear is to provide emergency vehicles with a safe and clear pathway to respond to their calls (“Left Lane Idiots”, 2008). If people are in the habit of driving in the left lane at all times, emergency vehicles must swerve around them and increase the level of danger to all drivers on the road, not to mention the people at the site of the emergency. The need to watch out for people driving in the left lane also tends to slow down emergency vehicles, meaning longer response times at moments when every second might mean the difference between life and death.
It is also undeniable that some drivers are okay with driving the speed limit, others find it necessary to drive at slightly above the speed limit and still others are nervous about going that fast and tend to travel at slightly below the speed limit. These are not always simply the whims of the drivers, but maybe influenced by external elements such as family emergencies (making people drive faster) or high profile vehicles in strong winds (forcing the vehicle to travel slower in order to retain control). When these people ‘camp out’ in the left lane, they cause traffic flow problems as people needing to travel faster cannot safely pass around them.
Finally, people should try to remember that the restriction of the left lane as a passing lane is a state law in many states. While visiting family in Colorado, I was able to observe just how quickly Colorado state police were to pull over drivers who were not actively engaged in passing someone while traveling in the left-hand lane. This is supported by Eric Peters (2005) who reports that Colorado and Florida have been cracking down on drivers who refuse to move to the right when not actively passing other cars. Other states that restrict the left lane to passing only include Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington (Carr, 2008). Most other states restrict slower traffic to the right-hand lanes and may issue tickets if a slower vehicle fails to yield to the right when being overtaken in the left-hand lane.
The left lane of the freeway is considered the fast lane because it is supposed to be available for faster traffic, such as those individuals responding to an emergency situation, whether in a private vehicle or a designated emergency vehicle. By keeping slower traffic to the right, safety for everyone on the road is increased. Increasing numbers of states are enforcing this concept as a matter of safety. If for no other reason than just to avoid traffic tickets, it is worth remembering that the left lane is protected by law to be a passing lane only.