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. Matt V says,

    I’d like to point out the bias in this article and basically every other article I’ve seen written on this subject. All the benefits of not driving in the left lane would be equally found if people would instead adhere to the speed limit and then allow driving in any lane. Traffic slower than the speed limit should still move right of course. Legally the article is correct, but the bias in favor of speeders needs to be recognized.

    • Donnie Bell says,

      Insurance studies have shown that many accidents have happened when drivers in the left lane have unknowingly been in the “blind spot” of drivers in the right lane.. Pacing a vehicle causes congestion, which causes accidents also. Be courteous, keep right unless passing, it keeps the lane open for emergency traffic also.

  2. gail says,

    State “keep right” laws List shows Missouri as ” Right” which is not defined in the comments above the list, So what does that mean. I believe it should show Yes.

  3. Allred says,

    This text defies logic in so many places. How would staying in the right lane lead to less weaving and changing lanes? You would constantly need to change lanes to avoid entering vehicles and yo pass slow vehicles. The slow left lane hogs stay in the left lane exactly for the purpose of avoiding any lane changes. In short, you should stay in the lane which fits best your intended speed. While telling people to not stay in the left lane when not passing is fine, I can’t call this whole article anything but misinformed, daft, illogical; in short: stupid.

  4. Joseph S Delrie says,

    I can think of several reasons why the left lane should not be designated as a passing lane. First, with the bulk of traffic in the right lane it gets worn out very quickly causing major damage to vehicles that obey the law and stay in the right lane, like tires and windshield leaks. Second, it is impossible to maintain the average speed in the right lane with the constant passing that is necessary to get around the traffic that is moving 10+ mph below the speed limit. The constant acceleration and slowing down also kill gas mileage. Third, many people still use the left lane as a high speed lane so if you are in the right lane sometimes you are stuck literally hours in the right lane because you can’t match the speed in the left lane to get around the hay truck (or other Agri vehicle) going 40 mph. As on I40 between Little Rock and Memphis.

  5. garma says,

    It would be nice if articles like this pointed out that most states’ passing-lane-only laws apply to highways over a certain limit, not side roads unless posted!

    This law almost always only applies to multi-lane highways out of the metro area unless signs specify otherwise and end when “highway ends”.

    ***Please do not make people believe this applies to all roads.***

    thanks.

  6. Nabby says,

    “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”

    I don’t understand this argument. Like it or not, the speed limit is still the limit and anyone going faster than that is breaking the law. You’re blaming people who obey the law for being in the way of people who don’t. It’s the people going faster than the posted limit that cause the problems.

    • Neal Flanagan says,

      But you are also breaking the law and causing accidents. What makes you feel your are entitled to be a vigilante?

      • Matt Vang says,

        No one should be in the left lane in order to teach someone else a lesson or to be a “vigilante”.

        But it’s really hard to blame someone going the limit for causing an accident involving someone doing something stupid just so they can then speed illegally. Let’s have some perspective.

    • Donnie Bell says,

      The so-called “speed limit” is variable in most States, depending on location and State laws. Some States have “absolute” laws, some have “variable” laws with unposted maximum limits. Meaning “flow” of traffic over-rides speed limits.. It is far more dangerous, proven by insurance studies, to “congest” traffic, than it is to “ease” use.. If you are blocking traffic, you are due a citation in all State of the USA.. Speeding is NOT the number one cause of accidents, failure to yield “right of way” is…

  7. Ramon S Ramsey says,

    I like to read these articles. I find them very informative and useful, not to mention that they have a tendency to keep you sharp and road savvy. Good stuff all the way around !