cars passing on highway

Should You Only Use The Left Lane To Pass?

Do you love the left lane?

When you head out on the open road, do you automatically steer toward the left lane because that’s traditionally where “faster” drivers are known to go? And while there’s nothing wrong with using the left lane as it’s intended, people who drive slowly in that lane could find themselves in trouble with the law.

Much of the current misunderstanding over the left lane stems from the 55 mph national speed limit that was enacted in 1974, according to the National Motorists Association (NMA), a grassroots drivers’ alliance that lobbies for traffic regulations and safety issues. Before this, passing on the left was an unwritten rule of the road, but after the speed limit was enacted, drivers believed that if they were maintaining the posted speed limit then they could chill anywhere. “Because the speed limit was too low, drivers trying to pass weren’t allowed to and it caused a lot of problems, and it still does,” says Shelia Dunn, Communications Director of the NMA.

Reserving the left lane only for passing other cars—known as “lane courtesy”—reaps surprising benefits, however. Here’s why you should reserve your left-lane use for passing only.

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You’ll Avoid Tickets And Fines

Police officer writing ticketPeople have different interpretations of how to drive in the left lane, but staying there when you’re not passing isn’t allowed in most states, despite what some drivers might think. Blame the confusion on the lack of a nationwide law. In 29 states, there are laws that any car moving slower than the surrounding traffic should be in the right lane, while other states are stricter and designate the left lane only for turning or passing. In Georgia, it’s actually a misdemeanor to move slower in the left lane than surrounding traffic. This year, Tennessee cracked down and now has established a $50 fine for slow left-lane drivers.

It’s Safer

Beyond avoiding fines (always a plus!), abiding by lane courtesy makes the roads safer for everyone, as faster drivers have a quick and easy way to get around slower drivers. “You’re less likely to get into an accident because traffic is always flowing and more consistent,” says Dunn.

You’ll Save On Gas

Following the letter of the law can save you a few bucks, too. Maintaining your speed and sticking to the right can get you better gas mileage. You’re also doing planet Earth a solid. Less weaving in and out of lanes is more fuel-efficient and better for the environment, so even if you forgot to recycle last week, you can still be a tad proud of yourself if you stick to the right.

You’ll Stress Less

Trying to zip around cars doesn’t significantly improve your commute time, either. “If you remain at a consistent speed limit and only drive to the left if you need to, you’re going to ultimately get to your destination faster,” says Dunn. Plus, lane courtesy might just be the quickest cure for road rage. “If you’re weaving in and out and cutting people off, you may cause road rage in others, and that’s what we really need to stop,” says Dunn.

Of course lane courtesy is easier said than done, especially in states with heavily trafficked motorways. But you don’t have to give up entirely. “Don’t just park yourself in one of the middle lanes,” recommends Dunn. “You should really be cognizant of trucks and what everyone around you is doing, and try to drive right as much as possible.” But staying in the right lane doesn’t mean you can zone out, either: Remember to be aware of and make room for merging vehicles.

In the end, lane courtesy actually helps all drivers treat one another as equals on the road—and makes the highways and freeways a safer space for everyone.

Before you take off to your next destination, get a fast, free auto insurance quote from GEICO to see how much you could save.

Next: The rules of the road aren’t always cut and dry, so take our “Are You a Good Driver?” quiz to find out how you compare with your fellow motorists.

By Kara Cutruzzula

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    Leave a comment

  1. Paul K says,

    On a familiar route that has three or four lanes going in one direction, I drive past several busy on-ramps with heavy traffic merging from the right. The safest approach to driving that stretch is not to try to get into the right lane at every opportunity, but to stay left of the congestion, avoid changing lanes, and keep moving with the traffic.

    If in heavy traffic I’m already going more than 5 mph above the speed limit and suddenly see in my review mirror a tailgating driver pressuring me to let him pass, accommodating his impatience and bad behavior would not be my first concern. Rather, “safety first”: If I don’t see a safe way to change lanes just then, the other driver will have to figure out a different approach to his problem.

  2. Jgaspard says,

    Buuut, police officers will also tell you that you cannot exceed the speed limit to pass, so if the SL is 70 somewhere and you want to pass someone that going 65, then it may take longer that 250 yards.

    • move over says,

      Wrong. Some states allow you to exceed the speed limit in a safe manor to over take a slower vehicle. Also some states are prima facie, In those states you can exceed the posted speed limit as long as it is safe. Texas is one of them . Look up the term if you don’t know what it is.

  3. Blake Boatman says,

    On a lane roads, driving in the right is prohibitive, because it causes conjestion on the entrance ramps. People tend to stop on the entrance ramps to wait for an opening, due to the fact that a lot of the right lane drivers tend to close the hap in frpnt of them so drivers can’t get in between them. Thid caudes accidents on the entrance ramp, due to drivers looking back for an opening. Entance ramp drivers DO NOT HAVE TO YIELD. Should be an easy flow onto the highway.The right lane is for entrance and exit drivers.

  4. Eileen Anzalone says,

    I learn to drivein Connecticut was taught never to pass on the right is this still true I live in New Hampshire and commute to Massachusetts I am always being cut off from both sides left and right impossible to keep up with it to keep safe then nearly hit each other when they meet in the middle!

  5. Eric says,

    Left lane & passing

    Being safe and making commutes smooth is not selfishly driving whatever speed you want over a speed limit. Speed limits are created for safety purposes and for traffic flow. There will likely always be people that are selfish or don’t care about the law. The solution for society is not to cater to these people and move out of their way so that they can do what they want. The solution is to realize that speed limits are there for good reason, everyone abide by them for the safety and smooth flow of everyone on the road, and enforce punishment for those that speed. You also can’t assume all speeding vehicles have an emergency either. Official emergency vehicles have flashing lights and sounds.

    If you are under the speed limit, or if you are in a place like Germany where there are sections with no limit, then moving over makes sense for traffic flow and safety. If you are at the limit in the left lane, then there is no need to move over unless there is an emergency vehicle approaching from behind or there is open room in the right lane to move over for potential emergency vehicles. Speeding (selfishly thinking your schedule, impatience, or driving skills are above the law) and following too closely are what need to change, not those who are abiding by the speed limit (aka the law) in the left lane.
    Posted signs that instruct to “keep right except to pass” applies to passing when you are still within the speed limit. Passing is not an exception to the posted speed limit unless maybe you’re an emergency vehicle. Even emergency vehicles need to maintain safe speeds.

    Being late to work or any type of appointment does not qualify as an emergency that justifies speeding and thus reduced safety for the rest of society.
    If you are exceeding the speed limit without a legitimate emergency, then you are putting everyone else’s safety at risk and do not deserve respect or courtesy to pass. You deserve to be put in jail and taught how to be an unselfish law-abiding citizen.

    • Blake Boatman says,

      Quite often, people in the left lane drive a tad bit slower that the rest of the traffic. The is why law enforcement have a 5 mph variance when they are tracking you. Some drivers also can’t stand to be passed. That is why when pass some drivers, they will pass you, cross over in gront of a slow back down. The 5 mph variance is do to not all speedometers read the same. Especially when drive a car with an analog speedometer. IT IS NOT SELFISH TO PASS SOMEONE. Also a lot of states has it elegal to pass on the right. So slower drivers should always need to stay in the right or center lane.

      • Eric says,

        Thanks for your response, Blake. However, I never said anything about going slower than the rest of traffic in the left lane, nor did I say anything about being upset if people pass you, nor that it is selfish to pass in general. All of those things are beside the point, which is abiding by the SPEED LIMIT. If you are exceeding the speed limit (add your extra 5 mph if you like), whether to pass or for any other reason that is not a true emergency, then IT IS SELFISH.

    • Kurt says,

      Clearly Eric is one of the drivers camping out in the left lane! He considers himself a speed limit enforcer, bound to make sure others don’t exceed the limit. He foolishly believes by remaining in the left lane, he can block those “mean” speeders! His logic is shortsighted! People like him ARE the cause of accidents. Let the speeders go! You are causing road rage. You are causing other foolish drivers to drive even more careless! YOU ARE THE PROBLEM! You are not going to “enlighten” those foolish drivers into being better drivers!
      A more mature driver without your insecurities of other cars passing them would do the smart and responsible thing. Stay out of the left lane! Let the fools go! No road rage or accidents and everybody’s happy! Stop being so petty and immature! You and I don’t set or enforce the speeds. Use the left for passing only, IT’S THE LAW!

      • Eric says,

        Clearly, Kurt does not know what he is talking about and his perspective is part of the problem. My comment in no way expressed “camping out in the left lane”, being a “speed limit enforcer”, “blocking those mean speeders”, or attempting to “enlighten foolish drivers”. Amusing (trolling?) response, though!
        Simply abiding by the speed limit is not the root of the problem and has nothing to do with being petty, immature, or insecure. Abiding by the speed limit / law causes road rage and accidents, you say?? Well to heck with the law then! Do you also believe that law abiding citizens are the problem behind murders committed by insane people? Seriously, Kurt, if in fact your response is serious and legitimate, YOU ARE THE SHORTSIGHTED PROBLEM.

  6. Dolores M. Pementa says,

    Some times I am driving in the left lane because the traffic is heavy and I know that I shall be making a left turn . If driving in the right lane and waiting til I reach close proximity to my left turn – that does not allow enough open traffic spaces for me to get into the left turn lane. As an older senior driver, when I travel in the left lane, I try to keep to the speed limit. However, many drivers are driving faster than the posted speed limit and go around me to the right lane and then cut back to the left lane directly in front of me. That’s dangerous !!!

  7. Don Wilcox says,

    What is it about speed demons (80 mph or faster in a 55, 60 or 70 mph zone) that they think driving unsafely gives them special rights over other drivers in the left lane to pass a slower vehicle?

    If every driver on the highway would slow down to the speed limit, we would ALL be safer on the highway.

  8. Don Wilcox says,

    The left lane and right lane rules were made when major highways were four lanes (2 each direction). Those rules are still valid for 4-lane highways. With 6-, 8- and 10-lane highways now more common than 4-lane it is time to take a look at those rules. My suggestion:

    1. Far left lane for high speed traffic and passing.
    2. Far right lane for slow and local traffic (entering/exiting highway)
    3. Center lane for passing and thru traffic moving at or above the speed limit.
    4. Fourth and fifth lanes for special traffic… such as upcoming exit on the left, traffic splitting onto different highways , emergency vehicles etc. The far left lane would then be for local traffic, next lane for passing and thru traffic , center lane for thru traffic and passing and the two far right lanes as in 1 and 2 above.

  9. leonard says,

    In L.A. traffic sometimes the only way to pass slow moving traffic is to pass on the right. With truck- trailer rigs in the center lanes, the passing lane packed, the right lane may be the only way to pass a logjam of slow (50-55 mph) traffic.

  10. Tom says,

    How old is the writer who says ” You’re also doing planet Earth a solid”? Solid what does that really mean?

  11. Lula Stanley says,

    The left lane is for passing, then, you return to right lane as a courtesy to other drivers.

  12. David Jost says,

    while the letter of the law may be true, it is totally impractical in congestion and high volume to all fit in a lane to the right. People will gravitate to space on the road, no one likes the slow car in the left lane holding up traffic, they should move over for the many reason sighted. Traffic volume also dictates whether riding in the left lane is faster or slower. Passing on the left then cutting in the right to allow an even faster car by can cause the right lane to break and cascade the speed reduction far behind the initial slow down. The biggest problem on the road is not leaving enough room in front to safely slow down, and the outrageously aggressive drivers changing lanes frequently.

  13. ADITA says,

    They need to enforce the law about trucks travelling in the left lane,except to pass.Also need toticket or arrest drivers who are texting while driving anywhere on the roads,unless they are parked!
    Too many time they are slowing everyone down because they are distracted and not keeping up with the traffic

  14. Don says,

    I googled this topic and in most states it is illegal to pass on the right unless vehicle you are passing is making a left turn. Never enforced but passing on right leads to many accidents.

    • MArian SOlomon says,

      I am from NJ orig. I know that staying in the right lane except to pass is more safe than anything. THere are those who arbitrarily “live” in the passing lane because they like to drive there, not realizing how it could cause accidents. I see it every day on the highway where these cars are side by side and cars following both sides, and no one is going anywhere. ITs frustrating. it gets people’s dander up. And before you know it horns are honking, for the guy on left to move out of the way. when will these people learn? WE need more road signs saying KEEP TO RIGHT except to pass or you will be fined ! SOme people act as if they have never heard of that ! HOw do we educate the people????? WIsh someone would.. Maybe it should appear across the newspapers or appear across the TV so it’s in the people’s faces !!!!!!! THey need to KNOW……. Good luck with that. ON, maybe we all could post a sign on our bulletin boards or in the elevators say, “keep to the right, except to pass”
      THank you

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