You can pass on the right on multi-lane highway

The in basket: Two readers – Sam Iam and BugeaterInWA, they called themselves – read the recent Road Warrior columns about not honking of flashing your headlights to reprimand another driver for not going forward when the light changes, camping out in the left lane or whatever else annoys you. Both asserted in comments on the Road Warrior blog at that passing such a driver on the right is not an option because it is illegal.

About the same time, Janet Adams wrote, “I have a question about staying in the right lane and passing a car when there are multiple lanes. I’m wondering about the section of Highway 3 going south from Poulsbo to Silverdale. A third lane gets added right after the Keyport area and I like to get in the right lane in anticipation of exiting towards Kitsap Mall. Sometimes, if I pass a car in the middle lane by going to

the left lane, I don’t have time to get back to the right lane and miss my exit,” she said.

The out basket: Passing on the right on a multi-lane highway is not illegal, though there is a law that is ambiguous of the subject.

State law (RCW 46.61.110) lists two circumstances in which passing on the right is legal. One, “When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn. Two,”Upon a roadway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles moving lawfully in the direction being traveled by the overtaking vehicle.”

Sadly, it doesn’t put an “and” or an “or” between them, so we don’t know if it’s meant to mean both or one or the other of the conditions must be met.

So I turn to the State Patrol, where spokesman Trooper Russ Winger of the local detachment says, “That law pertains to a single lane roadway with sufficient pavement outside the lane of travel (no driving on the shoulder and no passing if there’s an intersection to right side of the left-turning vehicle)

“It does not pertain to multi-lane highways or interstates. It makes no sense at all. If this was the case, we would be stopping cars left and right for this and we don’t. We’re talking about practical application of the law here.”

Perhaps that’s why I hear from so many drivers furious about left-lane campers. They think they’re stuck behind them without breaking the law. I just pass them and rarely have to wait that long to get around them. I think most of them do it because they are afraid of not seeing a car in the blind spot to their right rear, especially at night or in the rain. Many young drivers have no idea that aged, stiff necks and backs make that check more difficult than it is for them.

7 thoughts on “You can pass on the right on multi-lane highway

  1. Travis, what a great article. Well written, loaded with facts, and calling out your readers! I’d give you 5 stars on yelp for sure.

    Help me out though as I feel more confused than ever now after reading your follow up article.

    New signage along all the hwys (multi lanes) even in Kitsap! Just to be clear, these signs are even sometimes located on the right and left hand side of the roadway (almost to the ensure they are seen by all, weird) These signs are very easy to see as they have only been up for a few months and moss has not yet had a chance to cover them. Those signs state in black and white to stay right except to pass. I think maybe you even wrote an article about a year ago about an incident in the Ghorst area of a women driver being pulled over for camping in the left lane. The article stated that the LEO involved only cited her due to when he passed her in the right lane she told him he was #1 in sign language. I thought I remembered the governor even requesting WSP to start enforcing this law?

    Left lane is for passing, taught to me in drivers ed (many years ago), read it on signage along the roadways (put there by the state none the less). Yet your telling me and others we are wrong? please explain Travis.

  2. Designating the left lane for passing only doesn’t forbid passing in the right lane.
    I don’t recall writing about the incident BugEater describes, but it would seem to illustrate the legality of passing on the right (the officer was doing it) and illegality of requiring other traffic to do so by camping out in the left lane.

  3. Here is my solution: Change all the signs to say “keep left except to pass” and then the majority will be in compliance.

  4. I agree with bug eater and was also trained in Drivers Ed. that you pass on the left.. Like I previously said in my example of a typical drive down 16, I only pass on the right if forced to. I certainly do not like making a habit of passing on the right. Besides the signage is clear “keep right except to pass” so it is the driver who is impeding the flow of traffics duty to move right. As soon at is clear to do so, I move right as well. Its just clean, safe and responsible driving.

  5. Here is another one of my pet peeves, the bottle neck on southbound 16 by the Bremerton Sewage treatment plant. How many times have you witnessed people move into the right lane and blow past all the drivers who abided by the sign that states “lane ends ahead. Move left.” just so they can get ahead, cut in front and become the very cause of the bottle neck in the first place. I see it every time I travel thru there. I have become so frustrated by this, that now I stay in the right lane until it goes into one lane. I figure if you can’t beat them, mize well join them. I figure if everyone just got in the right lane traffic would flow smoother.

  6. Sam, if at least half the people driving would get into that lane, then both lanes before the merge would be equally clogged. At that point, cars would zipper, taking turns to let each other in and the merge goes much faster. However, in what you described, everyone wants to feel righteous, so they all get over early making one long line, and then harbor resentment against those who didn’t and even refuse to let them in. And that’s what slows the merge down.

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