The Left Lane: The Other Side

Geoff Cullen of Bethesda with his custom-made bumper sticker.
Geoff Cullen of Bethesda with his custom-made bumper sticker. "It makes me feel better," he says. (By Matt Cullen)
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By John Kelly
Thursday, October 23, 2008

Perhaps it's fitting that in this hotly contested election year, everything should come down to left versus right. Yesterday we heard from drivers who think it's okay to cruise in the left-hand lane on a highway. Today, we hear from the other side.

Floyd Stilley commutes 75 miles from Washington, Va., to Fairfax. He's convinced that over the past decade, the problem of drivers planting themselves in the left lane of a four-lane divided highway -- "regardless of their speed or the fact that the right lane is free and clear" -- has gotten worse.

What especially irks Floyd is that often when he flashes his headlights, they refuse to move over, flouting the Code of Virginia, specifically Title 46.2-842.1, which states: "It shall be unlawful to fail to give way to overtaking traffic when driving a motor vehicle to the left and abreast of another motor vehicle on a divided highway. On audible or light signal, the driver of the overtaken vehicle shall move to the right to allow the overtaking vehicle to pass as soon as the overtaken vehicle can safely do so."

Several readers cited this passage. However, it's also clear that passing on the right on multilane highways does not violate Virginia law (Title 46.2-841). Furthermore, if you are exceeding the speed limit, vehicles don't have to move out of the left lane to make way for you. According to Title 46.2-823: "The driver of any vehicle traveling at an unlawful speed shall forfeit any right-of-way which he might otherwise have under this article." Maryland has similar language on its books.

In other words, both sides can find ammunition in the law.

Butch Zachrel of Poolesville writes: "If you were walking down the sidewalk and someone said 'excuse me' to pass, wouldn't you slow up? You wouldn't block the sidewalk, you wouldn't flip them off. You would politely move aside and let them by." Flashing headlights is just being polite on the interstate, says Butch.

Many flashers said keeping the left lane free -- yes, even for people exceeding the speed limit -- is safer, because it reduces the likelihood of drivers weaving in and out of the other lanes of traffic like salmon fighting their way upstream.

Why don't we practice highway hygiene of the sort found in, say, Germany? Vienna's Jim Cermenaro blamed poor driver's ed along with the " 'I got rights attitude' fostered by the 1970s era" (culture war!) and the fact that the police "focus upon folks going a few miles over the posted limit and totally ignore left-lane huggers who create dangerous situations that encourage traffic weaving."

Bethesda's Geoff Cullen is so fed up with the situation that he had a bumper sticker custom made. It reads "Free the Left Lane." Said Geoff: "I don't really expect this mild protest to change the behavior of Washington's rude drivers, especially on the Beltway, but it makes me feel better!"

My view? You want to send a message, do it with Western Union, not with your driving. Left-lane hoggers shouldn't take it upon themselves to teach a lesson. Many drivers seem certain they can discern the motives of other motorists: Arrogance! Selfishness! "Someone is driving fast in the left lane because he thinks he's more important than I." "That driver flashed his lights at me because he's rude." But how can people know each other's true motives while traveling at 65 mph in two hermetically sealed metal canisters?

Common sense and common courtesy dictate that slower drivers should keep right, that faster drivers shouldn't tailgate and flash their headlights in a menacing manner, and that we all should remember our aim is to arrive at our destination in one piece.

Finally, if you've ever doubted that the universe has a sense of humor, remember this anecdote from James Wyatt of Nokesville. A friend of his was driving on I-66 when a cellphone-talking driver moved over and almost took the friend's fender off. Wrote James: "After braking hard and honking just as hard, the offender extended his left arm out the window with cell phone clutched and middle digit upright. He lost the phone, which made a gratifying crunch as it passed under my friend's left front tire and a most pleasant rattle as the pieces showered about under the car."

Ah, sweet justice.

Back in the Chat Saddle Again

Something tells me this left-lane stuff might be a point of discussion during my online chat, which returns to the Web-waves tomorrow at noon. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/discussions.

And don't forget my blog, every day at http://voices.washingtonpost.com/commons.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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