When driving, keep right except to pass

Washington State Patrol stops 476 left-lane campers in three-day period of emphasis

If you’ve ever driven on State Route 3 or State Route 16, you’ve probably seen some conflicting signs on the side of the road: “Keep right except to pass” and “Through traffic keep left.”

Washington state law dictates the former. The left lane of a two-lane highway (in each direction) is for passing only, and if you’re not actively passing slower traffic, then staying in the left lane is ticketable. In fact, violating this law comes at a cost of $136.

But there are some exceptions to the rule, according to Washington State Patrol public information officer, Russ Winger.

One of those exception is middle lanes for larger highways with three or more lanes in each direction. Then, law enforcement is only concerned about the furthest left lane, not counting the carpool lane. Other exceptions are in Kitsap County, on highways 3 and 16 when the right lane ends.

“We don’t typically worry about those,” Winger said. “We’re not going to worry about people in the left lanes there. The distances are very short, there’s always a lot of congestion there. It’s not like out on the big highways where traffic is opened up, that’s where we worry about it.”

Elsewhere, though, those “Keep right except to pass” signs are there to inform you of the law. And at the end of June, WSP held a few days of emphasis for this law to ensure people are aware that it is, in fact, law.

“They put it together because we’ve had a lot of interest in it, a lot of people complaining about it, saying there’s nothing being done,” Winger said. “We do stop cars for this. We know it’s a problem, and we try to do it as much as we can in all the other things that we do out here. The emphasis was just to show that … and more for an educational thing.”

In the days of emphasis, June 20-22, WSP troopers stopped a total of 476 people for camping out in the left lane; the week before, June 13-15, they stopped 116.

“While the emphasis only ran for three days, troopers do focus on contacting left-lane drivers on a daily basis,” states a WSP report. “In fact, last year, troopers stopped more than 16,400 people for camping out in the left lane. This specfic emphasis was put into place to educate drivers on the negative effects that can result from left-lane driving, like road rage, traffic congestion and collisions.”

Winger said that one reason they want to keep the left lane as clear as possible is for emergency vehicles to pass quickly when needed. Otherwise, left-lane campers congest traffic, he said.

“If you have people sitting there blocking the free flow of traffic, people get irritated, make passes on the right, road rage, brake check…” Winger said. “Typically people camped in the left lane, usually they say they aren’t aware of the law. That’s why the emphasis was taking place, was to … make it more aware in the public’s view.

“It’s a commong thing; people do it without really thinking about it,” he said. “One common thing people say when you stop them is, ‘Well, I was going the speed limit, why’d you stop me?’ The law says unless you’re passing other vehicles actively, then you need to move to the right. That’s kind of the crux of it.”

Common questions

WSP recently posted a left-lane driving Q&A, with Lieutenant Mark Tegard answering some common questions. Here are a few:What is the left lane driving law? Answer: According to 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.

Can you speed in the left lane to pass someone? Answer: While the left lane may be considered the “passing” lane, the posted speed limit still applies!

What are some of the consequences of left-lane driving? Answer: A driver who is trying to pass a left-lane camper will oftentimes 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.

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 traveling the speed limit, are they still obligated to let traffic that wants to exceed the speed limit pass? Answer: Basically, yes. We certainly don’t want to support traveling 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.

To read the Q&A in its entirety, visit wspinsideout.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/ask-a-trooper-left-lane-driving.

Michelle Beahm is the online editor for the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at mbeahm@soundpublishing.com.

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