Officials in seven states single out trucks, others in left lanes

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, February 25, 2016

State legislatures from coast to coast are discussing possible rule changes to left-lane use by truck drivers and motorists.

Efforts underway in New Hampshire and Oklahoma call for banning trucks from using the far left lane on highways with at least three lanes in one direction.

Current law in both states requires any vehicle moving at less than the normal speed of traffic to stay to the right. The lane rule does not apply when preparing to turn or to overtake and pass another vehicle.

Exceptions to the lane rule in both states would be made for situations that include when a trucker is preparing to exit the roadway from the left.

Both bills would authorize $500 fines for violations.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says that truckers are firsthand observers of the negative consequences of misguided traffic laws. While perhaps not intended, both bills would pose serious challenges for truckers and jeopardize the safety of the traveling public.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, said that truckers contribute a significant amount of money to federal, state and local transportation accounts and that they have every right to use any available lane.

“If the left-hand lane is open, trucks should be free to use it and be held to the same standard as every other motorist,” Matousek said.

“At the very least, it is counterproductive to enact and enforce traffic laws that actually decrease safety, rather than improve it.”

He added that existing keep-right laws in both states are an appropriate policy to ensure safety and maximize capacity.

In New Hampshire, the House Transportation Committee met early this month to discuss the mandate in HB1102. The deadline to advance from committee is March 3.

The Oklahoma bill, HB2558, is not yet scheduled for a hearing.

Legislation in other statehouses covers concerns about any drivers who poke around in the far left lane.

Supporters, including OOIDA and the National Motorists Association, say that blocking the left lane, whether intentional or not, results in reduced road safety and efficiency.

The Tennessee House Transportation Committee has voted to advance a bill to allow police to ticket drivers lingering in the far left lanes of interstates and highways with at least three lanes of traffic in one direction.

Dubbed the “slowpoke bill,” HB1416 would require any driver on affected roadways to stay to the right except when overtaking or passing another vehicle.

Violators would face up to $50 fines. No points would be added to drivers’ licenses.

Certain exceptions that would apply include weather and merging traffic concerns.

Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, said he thinks it is a good idea for Tennessee to join the list of nearly 30 states that have rules in place covering slow traffic in the far left lane.

“I’ve discovered it is the weaving in and out of traffic trying to get around the slowpoke drivers that drives up accidents (in Tennessee) by 8 percent,” Howell testified.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation would not be required to post signage to alert drivers of the rule. Instead, they could use existing permanent electronic overhead displays on interstates to notify travelers of the rule.

According to TDOT, 393 miles of roadway in the state would be affected by the bill.

Another effort to reduce road rage is being undertaken at the Washington statehouse. Washington is one of 29 states to already have in place rules on impeding traffic, but Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, wants to up the ante for drivers who disobey the existing law covering multilane highways.

The Washington State Patrol says troopers noted nearly 14,000 “contacts” with violators statewide one year ago.

On top of the $136 fine for hanging out in the far left lane, SB6105 would add fines between $27 and $67 based on how slowly drivers are traveling in the passing lane.

The bill, SB6105, awaits consideration on the Senate floor.

Concern about left-lane use is also spurring activity in the Hawaii Legislature.

Dubbed the “lollygagging bill,” the measure targets drivers who impede traffic. Specifically, HB2746 requires any drivers on multilane roadways to move to the right if they are being overtaken by another vehicle, if they are driving below the posted speed, or if they have at least three vehicles following closely behind.

The House Transportation Committee voted to advance the bill after their decision to delay implementation until 2050.

In Alabama, the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee voted on Wednesday, Feb. 24, to advance a bill to revise the state’s keep-right law to apply to all drivers.

Currently, vehicles traveling below the posted speed limit are required to stay to the right. HB203 would change the rule to include a blanket requirement on interstates for all vehicles, regardless of speed, to stay right except to pass. Certain exceptions would apply.

A Maryland bill would prohibit drivers of all vehicles from lingering in the left lane.

State law already requires any vehicle driving at least 10 mph below the posted speed to stay to the right. Exceptions to the lane rule are made for preparing to turn or to overtake and pass another vehicle.

SB992 would add a requirement for drivers to move out of the far left lane when they are about to be overtaken. Offenders would face $100 fines. Subsequent violations would result in increased fines.

A separate bill in Annapolis covers proper lane changes. HB1043 would apply a $100 fine for drivers who fail to provide an appropriate turn signal when changing lanes.

An “appropriate turn signal” is defined as being in continuous duration for at least the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before making a turn.

Both bills are scheduled for committee hearings in mid-March.

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