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. Allen 'Sven' Stockman says,

    The Left Lane Law depends on the State. I am from Minnesota and we had a crazy State Senator who wanted everyone to drive in the Right Lane. Driving only in Right Lane cause excessive wear and tear on that Lane. And it also can unnecessary traffic jams. I am speaking of Minnesota. The State went with Slower Traffic Keep Right. You can still drive in either lane but if you are in the Left Lane and if a vehicle comes up behind you no matter how ‘fast’ you have to yield. However, in the Mpls St Paul Metro Area there is so much traffic that all Lanes are open to traffic. I am very in favor of all lanes open to Traffic but Speed Limits should apply to the Lane.

  2. Linda Pinkston says,

    One of your articles about problems with deer in the road advised driving in the left lane to avoid the darting out in front of you. How does that apply in this case?

  3. Tim Fennell says,

    The rule states that left lane is for passing – it does not say that you have to get out of the way ASAP because someone wants to go faster behind you. If vehicles on the right are going 65 MPH and I’m passing at 68, the moron who comes up within 6 inches of my rear gets the middle finger and I slow to 66 MPH

    • Mick J says,

      Why don’t you just get out of the way and let the guy behind you pass. Your only making everyone’s commute worse by purposely angering other drivers.

    • Big ? says,

      You are half of the problem. It’s not your responsibility, right or place to “parent” others on the road. I’m not forgiving aggressive drivers, but your mentality is definitely half of the problem.

    • Gayle Wheaton says,

      Duh,, learned this in Drivers the 50’s!! .an forget about flipping off drivers who get high on exhaust fumes..move the #$@* over and let them go on past. It’s not my job to enforce other peoples irrational driving “I’ll show you Buddy” ..I’d much rather send them on their way.

    • Brian says,

      It is a shame how many people have this asinine thinking. Even as I am a fast driver, when I pass, in the left, I move back over to the right. It is courteous, safe, and falls under the left lane is for “passing.” Not pass and coast, or hold up traffic.

      When you go “66” deliberately being a jerk, have you ever looked further behind to the impact you are having on the rest of traffic? People are so self-centered. Driving fast does not always equate to being unsafe! You instigating possible road rage does!

      This isn’t me, but if the person really gets offended because you cowardly give the finger from your car, or you tap the brakes (you know how people do), and they hit you, was that really worth not just getting over after you passed someone??? Some things are made far too difficult.

      Just giving perspective.

    • Todd Martin says,

      Slow down if you’re scared to pass! Not using your brain! You’re not entitled! It’s a privilege!

    • Jim Campbell says,

      Yeah. Wait till someone does that to you when you’re trying to get to the hospital to see your teen age child who was critically injured doing the same thing.

  4. Evan schambach says,

    I live in the right lane … I believe in everything happens for a reason so if I’m stuck behind someone for going 5 under I’m right where I’m supposed to be at that point in time ….

  5. Charles Regan says,

    In my state its the law you can only use left lane to pass, but we still have bad drivers that drive 80 in left lane when posted limit is 60. I stay in right lane most of the time, never even pass anyone. I dont mind doing 5 under, I do that most of time anyways because of weather. It rains a lot here.

  6. Rita Nichols says,

    Absolutely, it is safer and it is just curtious driving to not hog left lane if not passing. New safe.

  7. Dave Wallin says,

    Law enforcement needs to be a lot more strict when it comes to slow drivers in the left lane…plus bump the fine up to $300.

    • Amy C says,

      Absolutely correct! Ugh that is one of the most frustrating things on the highway! Move to the right, ESPECIALLY if you are going slower than those around you!!!

  8. Sal Colangelo says,

    To me the most dangerous feature in a car is the passenger side mirror. It reads cars may be closer. But people still cut over as long as they see a car in that mirror rather than looking in the rear view mirror. My car has a cruise control feature that if someone cuts in front of you to close it automatically brakes and that’s when I curse and my road rage sets in. I wish that they would go back to when both mirrors were the same as the drivers side mirrors.

    Thank You

    Just Venting

  9. Cynthia Cabral says,

    You mentioned saving gas at 55mph. That’s a reason the law was passed. “They” told us there was an oil shortage so by saving gas we were conserving

    • Bernd Ratsch says,

      Driving 55mph does not “save gas” as many think. It’s a blanket statement that has no actual merit behind it. Modern vehicles (and also older ones) get better mileage within the peak and most efficient operating RPM’s of the engine. This is dependent upon not only the engine design (4/6/8/10/12 cyl) but many variables: turbo/superchargers, high compression, multi-valve (DOHC/SOHC/OHV designs), fuel type (octane ratings being used), transmission type (manual/auto), gearing, 2WD, 4WD, AWD (Yes, there is a difference in between 4WD and AWD), aerodynamics, load….. the list does go on.

      • Jim Campbell says,

        55 MPH limit was established before the rail system and just in time manufacturing & delivery concepts were imposed by business. Corporate profits, not safety, were the real reason for increasing limits.

  10. Frank says,

    Regardless of speed limits, it’s common sense to move out of the way of faster cars. Let them use the left lane for passing, rather than slaloming across lanes.

    For benchmark… ever drove on the Autobahn? Moving to your right is the #1 rule. Even if doing 200 in a Porsche, you move over after passing. There’s all sort of crazy fast cars in the left lane. Also, passing on the right can cost a big fine and your driver’s license. ..

    Be safe,

  11. Sherri Barrett, MD says,

    You need to address high traffic areas where the roads are so crowded that to reserve the left lane only for passing is ridiculous. Once the paper published letters from people complaining and they all lived in the most congested areas of our state. Also, we have areas where it is more dangerous to ride in the right lane because so many cars get on at once and they don’t adapt to people already on the highway and you end up doing a lot of breaking on the interstate highway with a lot of near misses. When I was a practicing physician who saw a lot of car accident victims, the most common scenario were pile-ups because cars follow too closely, so when one stops, many cars behind it collide. Please be realistic. We do not live in a utopia where there is plenty of room on the road for everyone to drive the speed that they want to drive.

    • Rachel, Driving Instructor says,

      The right lanes can be extremely dangerous in some areas. Not far from where I live, there is an exchange between two interstates, two state highways, and six city roads. The traffic is exiting, entering, and transitioning between all these roads inside of an area measuring 200 yards by 200 yards, with ramps curving over, under, through, and around each other. Anyone who is on either of the interstates and going straight through is very wise to stay in the far right lane for about 2 miles through this “can-of-worms” “rat-nest” of roads and ramps. The right lane keeps you as far from the merge/unmerge insanity, and you have the should and even parts of the median as an emergency escape to avoid getting hit. A strict law on the use of the left lane is not the way to go, rather, better education and more compassion in the drivers is the answer, allowing for intelligent and logical use of the left lane to increase safety in an infinite number of possible scenarios.

    • Pan says,

      What you want is a common sense post on driving.. Atlanta is the perfect city for your scenario.. Exit and entrance ramps on the left and right.. With several congested interchanges too close together.. Most interchange accidents are from impatient idiots who don’t wait their turn.. Those idiot’s should have their license permanently revoked at the 1st offense.. When it rains hard I notice people lose sight of lane lines and hard brake suddenly because they are unsure.. Regardless of all the different scenarios of the roadway layout, the simple rules still apply.. Be in the travel lane (s) until you are 2 miles or a little less from your exit, get in the appropriate lane for your exit.. Stay out of the left lane until you have a reason to be in that lane.. Don’t lane hop to get a few cars ahead.. People that do that are why a traffic jam becomes gridlock.. And let people over.. Eventually you’ll get to where your going, with much less risk of an accident.. An accident can cost a whole lot more than time..

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