Opinion: Daily Journal

Should lawmakers get behind bill targeting slow-poke drivers?

Photo by Ildar Sagdejev (Wiki Commons)
Photo by Ildar Sagdejev (Wiki Commons)

A bill to increase penalties for people driving slow in the fast lane has passed the House transportation committee and continues along the jammed-packed legislative highway.

A driver deemed as impeding the flow of traffic would face a fine of $200. The House version would also set aside $50,000 in nonrecurring funds to teach people about the new rules.

Sponsors of the bill, House Bill 827 — and companion Senate Bill 303 — would prefer to keep this measure moving merrily along.

But maybe they should slow down, or even pull over and think about this. Should we have any rules at all relating to how fast we can drive on our highways, beyond obviously reckless and careless drivers?

Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, is a primary sponsor of H.B. 827. He describes drivers who ride slowly in the left lane as moving roadblocks.

“This is problematic because it causes traffic congestion, which increases the chances of an accident,” Hardister wrote in an email. “Even if the law is not enforced 100 percent of the time, it is important for people to know what the laws are. Think about it. You may not always get a ticket for speeding or for not using a turn signal, but as a driver, you are expected to adhere to the law, nonetheless. The left lane bill would function in much the same. You may not always get a ticket, but you should not block the left lane when there are cars trying to pass you.
People who putt along in the left lane are a source of angst for drivers who generally obey the laws but would prefer spending less time on the road, as opposed to more. Further, traffic laws such as speed limits are arbitrary and subjective. Merely suggestions rather than the rule.

“Some people say that this bill condones speeding, but it does not,” Hardister writes. “If you are riding in the left lane and a car comes up behind you, the best thing to do is to move over and let them by. If they are speeding, it is up to law enforcement, not a private citizen, to enforce the law.”

Each state has a basic speed statute requiring drivers to operate their vehicles at a speed that’s reasonable and prudent for conditions, says the Federal Highway Administration.

“Statutory limits are based on the concept that uniform categories of highways can operate safely at certain maximum speeds under ideal conditions,” it says in a voluminous report about speed limits, which, as one can imagine, vary dramatically.

Drivers in Alaska can legally drive no faster than 55 mph. But, says the National Motorists Association, in mostly austere South Dakota, Montana, and Nevada it’s OK to go 80 mph.

But, in all reality, driving 65 mph — the legal limit — on Interstate 40 around the Triangle, Triad, or Charlotte is a virtual invitation to be consumed by traffic speeding by on all sides.

Speaking anecdotally — and not from any legal perspective — state troopers generally are lenient, offering a cushion of 5 or 10 mph. But, again, who’s to know how fast is too fast? Anything more than 65 mph is, technically, a breach of the law.

So, then, how can troopers determine — by applying any type of metrics, analytics, or science — whether a slow poke truly is impeding traffic?

The Highway Patrol will devise a methodology, of course, but the result can be nothing but a practice in subjectivity. Much like the process of determining which speeders to pull over and when.

On its face, H.B. 827 is a fine idea, and most drivers would welcome its passage.

But do we really need more laws?

“There may be other laws related to traffic safety that can be changed or eliminated,” Hardister writes. “I am open-minded to any suggestions. But the left-lane passing bill makes sense. We need to allow traffic to flow more freely, which will reduce the likelihood accidents on the highway.”