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. Tomsonreal says,

    No one is being ignorant when they are following the rules of the road and are stoping for pedestrians . People always want to drive fast and have no stop sign in front of them whatsoever . Not everyouone has cars and sometimes there are pedestrians in the way. The only reason I bring this up is because I stop for them and cars behind me honk . They get mad that they aren’t moving forward . People who drive have no pacience . Not 5 seconds pass and people honk. People always speed over the limit and crash . How much force can a car produce going 55mph? It’s a great idea for drivers . At the same time it had its cons due to the fact that curtesy and safe flow together . Reasons why there’s traffic is because of pedestrians , and constant lane changing . If cars where to pass other cars and start driving 55mph … think about think one fellas

  2. InamR says,

    worse is when two slow drivers are going parallel to each other in both lanes and you are going to work. I have experienced it many times

  3. Israel says,

    Drivers in the state of Colorado are horrible, they think the “blinkers are optional” the blinkers are there for a reason-to let other drivers know of your intentions, Turning left or right, and you turn your blinker about a 100′ before you turn left or right, also if you are parked along the street you supposed to turn your blinker on as you drive from along side the street. The also block intersections with no regard, they don’t know how to merge into the freeway

  4. Todd Martin says,

    One comment is not enough! Again we’re all human and hence think about ourselves first! The facts are half the vehicles on the roads are not safe at posted speed limits! We need to call on our law makers to impose still fines for people driving slow holding up traffic intentionally being rude to fellow human beings! People have for far too long been given rights without earning the privilege!

  5. Mike Safi says,

    I had the same idea but didn’t know how to pursue ,great idea I am not a fast driver but I have witnessed many accidents due the lane changes ,people get frustrated because of the slow moving car and with a lot of anger they change lane so quickly causing accidents no matter how fast we are going when we see a faster car approaching we shuld leave the fast lane.

  6. Dennis zhill says,

    Many people feel if they are doing the posted speed limit, they are entitled to use any lane theywant. If you use your headlights to get them to move from the left lane, they get really angry!The other want thats gets me is people who do not use their wipers when its raining!

  7. Chuck Hugh says,

    I have been a passenger and explained the keep right except to pass to drivers that stay in the left lane and they will move over to the right lane. 5 minutes later they are back to doing the same thing.
    They should nationalize traffic laws. Change right hand turn on red after complete stop to yield on right turn on red, or wherever there is a right turn lane put up a yield sign rather than a signal.
    Just finished driving 500 miles today. The left lane hogs are out there. I probably passed more of them on the right than traffic I passed on the left.

  8. Mohammad Iqbal says,

    It doesn’t matter if you pass from left or right. The matter is to watch for the traffic clearance behind and both side, and to make a sharp decision.

    • Pan says,

      Then you will likely be squashed by an rv , semi or any vehicle with a considerable blind spot, who looked but didn’t see you dart in.. If where you are going is that time critical, then leave earlier rather than put everyone else at risk by weaving in and out of lanes.

  9. Craig Hicks says,

    This article does more to confuse issues than clear them up. Driving when the highway is not filled to capacity is different from when it is above capacity. The part of article about “slow drivers in the left lane” mostly applies to situations where the highway is not filled to capacity – in that situation drivers can choose the lane appropriate for the speed they feel comfortable with.
    When the highway is filled to capacity or higher, all the lanes are going to be travelling at or slower than the speed limit, almost everybody will wish to be travelling faster, and the choice of lane has more do with how far it is to your exit than speed. The part of the article saying “Trying to zip around cars doesn’t significantly improve your commute time” is more about that overcapacity situation, where 5% of the drivers can’t settle down and are constantly changing lanes without sufficient safety margin trying to gain an extra yard.

  10. Todd Martin says,

    Nothing will ever change unless we the people ask for slow left lane drivers to pay a very stiff fine for being ignorant of fellow human beings! They endanger everyone including themselves without regard for decency!