Smokey and the Left Lane Bandits

Washington State Troopers are cracking down on Left Lane Bandits, slower-moving vehicles that camp out in the left-hand lane. These fast lane hoarders reduce the efficiency of highways and increase the frustration of their fellow drivers. Worst of all, they put themselves and others at greater risk of collisions. The left lane is the passing lane in both Canada and the United States, but enforcement is much stricter in the latter. It’s time for B.C. to follow suit.

Across the United States, fines are issued in an effort to diminish freeway fatalities and reduce congestion. South of the Peace Arch, for example, Left Lane Bandits can be ticketed $124 US even when driving the speed limit  that is if the speed limit is slower than the current speed of traffic. Passing on the right leads to a confusing dynamic among drivers, and such speed variance can force vehicles to make unnecessary and dangerous lane changes. The rule of thumb: if you’re not passing, best keep to the right.

Some drivers in B.C. also may feel that it is their right to coast in the left lane, if they are following the speed limit. That’s not the case here either, particularly if it impedes traffic. ICBC driving instructors say that treating the left and right lanes as the “passing” and “travelling” lanes can help prevent accidents.

There are far more deaths per vehicle on Canadian highways than there are on German autobahns, where there isn’t even a general speed limit on most stretches. About 100 more fatalities occur a year on the autobahn than the highway. Bear in mind that Germany is also home to 47 million more people.

While differences in weather and infrastructure are factors, the main cited reason is lane discipline. In Germany, and other European countries, there is a stricter separation of traffic by speed. Drivers generally know their place; they anticipate and watch out for other vehicles, keeping the left lane free for passing and working together to keep traffic moving.

Hence it appears that speeding is less often a cause than previously thought. High speeds are a factor in just over 30% of all road fatalities in B.C. This is not to say that “speed kills” campaigns are unimportant or inaccurate. It does, however, suggest that driving legislation and driver education should evolve. Speed variance created by Left Lane Bandits must be considered as much of a threat to highway safety.

B.C. will have difficulty improving its lane discipline until Section 158 of the Motor Vehicle Act is clarified:

158  (1) The driver of a vehicle must not cause or permit the vehicle to overtake and pass on the right of another vehicle, except

(a) when the vehicle overtaken is making a left turn or its driver has signalled his or her intention to make a left turn,

(b) when on a laned roadway there is one or more than one unobstructed lane on the side of the roadway on which the driver is permitted to drive, or

(c) on a one way street or a highway on which traffic is restricted to one direction of movement, where the roadway is free from obstructions and is of sufficient width for 2 or more lanes of moving vehicles.

(2) Despite subsection (1), a driver of a vehicle must not cause the vehicle to overtake and pass another vehicle on the right

(a) when the movement cannot be made safely, or

(b) by driving the vehicle off the roadway.

The wording must be more explicit, like in most American states: for example, it is forbidden to drive slower than the flow of traffic while in the left “passing” lane Until then, it is unlikely for police in B.C. to penalize offenders.

ICBC must also be more straight-forward when educating new drivers. In sections about lane selection, their driving guides are no less vague. While instructors may spell it out for students, print and online materials emphasize highway courtesy when it should be less about manners and more about the rules.

Now that summer is here, B.C.’s highways will see an increase in tourists, RVs and truck-pulled boats. Not surprisingly, it’s also the most dangerous season for driving in our province, with more driving fatalities than in the winter months. If you are caught behind a Left Lane Bandit, please remember to leave the appropriate following distance and safely move away.

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