Tag Archives: left lane

HOV lane etiquette and the law

The in basket: Dan Wierman writes, “Today I made a round trip from Bremerton to Seattle and back. My dad was with me and since there were two of us in the car, I chose to drive in the carpool lane on I-5, even thought the traffic was not too heavy. I rarely get the opportunity to drive in the carpool lanes.
“Even driving at or slightly above the speed limit, cars would catch up with us. Some would just go around to the right of us and many would stay on our tail.
“So my questions are:
– Are we bound by the same congestion rules – I believe it (forbids) holding up five cars or more – while driving in the carpool lane?
– Is it considered ‘camping’ if you stay in the carpool lanes like it is if you drive in a left lane without passing cars?
– Any other insights on how to manage driving in carpool lanes?
“I apologize if these questions have previously been brought up,” he said in conclusion.
The out basket: I have addressed this before, but there’s no need to apologize. It’s been over seven years since I dealt with it directly.
It hasn’t been that long since I addressed his second question, though. About a month ago, I quoted State Trooper Russ Winger in saying that the HOV lane is not considered the left lane for enforcement of the law that requires staying out of the left lane unless you’re overtaking and passing other traffic, leaving room for a freeway merger or preparing to turn left.
The “don’t delay five cars or more” law wouldn’t apply to HOV lanes or any multiple-lane highway. It reads, “On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, a slow moving vehicle, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in a line, shall turn off the roadway wherever sufficient area for a safe turn-out exists, in order to permit the vehicles following to proceed.”
Seven years ago, I wrote, “If in the HOV lane next to stop-and-go traffic, it’s not smart to be doing even the speed limit, as one of the crawling cars in the next lane might try to move into your lane at any moment, giving you little or no chance to react. Any driver behind you in such traffic should be grateful to be making steady progress, even if well below the speed limit.
“If all traffic is moving at highway speeds, I usually move out of the HOV lane to avoid frustrating a driver behind me wishing to go faster. But it certainly would be within a driver’s rights to stay put and make the speeder make the lane change. It would probably be just one of many lane changes such a driver will make that trip.”
No experience I’ve had since then would change that advice, except having found double white lines separating some big city HOV lanes from the next lane over. It’s illegal to cross over double white lines into or out of an HOV lane except in the gaps between those lines.
Trooper Winger has his own perspective. Though neither of the laws Dan asked about requires moving out of the HOV lane, “motorists using this lane should consider that one of the purposes of the HOV lane, besides reducing the number of vehicles on the road, is to promote the flow of traffic,” he said. “Stacking vehicles behind you, just because you can, is not a good strategy. It promotes ‘bad feelings’ between motorists which can lead to erratic lane changes and road rage.
“I would suggest that drivers occupying the HOV lanes be aware of their speed and the traffic behind them. Move out of the way and let the vehicles by and then reenter the lane. Be considerate and think about the big picture, which is the safe and efficient flow of traffic,” he said..

The ‘Keep Right’ law and multi-lane highways

The in basket: After Gary Reed got pulled over and warned about camping in the inside lane of Highway 16, which has two lanes in each direction for most of its length, he wrote me to say, ” I’ve seen signs along multi-lane highways like I-90 that say to ‘Keep right except to pass.’ Why are we taxed billions of dollars to build super highways when we’re only allowed to travel in the right lane? I get the two-lane (highways), but not three or more in the same direction.”

The out basket:  I asked Trooper Russ Winger of the State Patrol how drivers should apply the prohibition of driving in the left-lane to freeways with more than two lanes in each direction, and he said “the far left lane (is) the left lane you need to stay out of unless passing slower traffic.

“The HOV lane is not considered the left lane.”

He also reminded me of the state law on this matter (RCW 46.61.100), which permits use of the inside general purpose lane for purposes other than passing.

“Upon all roadways having two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction,” it says, “all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, except (a) when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, (b) when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow, (c) when moving left to allow traffic to merge, or (d) when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit, or into a private road or driveway when such left turn is legally permitted.

“It is a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multilane roadway when it impedes the flow of other traffic.”

I think (a) and (b) above mean the same thing and © mostly applies when making room for traffic entering a freeway.

Two signs with the same meaning


The in basket: A. V. Harris Jr. of Bremerton asks, “What is the difference between ‘Slow Traffic Keep Right’ signs and ‘Keep Right Except to Pass’ signs?  I have seen both in various areas of the Seattle/Tacoma/Kitsap County area, and feel that both need increased enforcement.  Are they based on different laws? 

“I feel like the ‘Keep Right Except To Pass’ is a little more directive,” A.V said. “The common reaction for the left lane camper is to decide that they are not ‘slow traffic,’ regardless of the prevailing speed of the rest of the traffic on the road.  Then they righteously are OK to stay camped in the left lane.  I’ve wondered what the state’s intentions actually are in this regard.”

The out basket: Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the state highway’s Olympic Region, says, “These two signs mean about the same thing.  That said, we tend to use ‘Slow Traffic Keep Right’ for areas in which we have a truck climbing lane and ‘Keep Right Except to Pass’ on multilane freeways.”

I know many readers get a lot more nettled by left-lane campers than I do, so I thought I’d pass along the mental exercise I use to keep it in perspective.

If you spend two minutes stuck behind someone in the left lane traveling slower than you want to go, you haven’t really been delayed two minutes. You’ve been delayed only as long as it takes you to make up how much farther you’d have gone in those two minutes if you had been able to go as fast as you wanted. The math required to say exactly how far that would be hurts my head, but if that was 10 miles per hour faster than you actually traveled, it’s a matter of about 20 seconds.

I still flash my headlights at a left lane camper I want to get around, but less angrily. 

If you are one of those afraid to change lanes from inside to outside, remember that you can be cited for not moving over if you’re not overtaking and passing, preparing to turn left or giving someone on the shoulder more room.