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. Charles says,

    WOW…….I AM AMAZED THAT NO ONE MENTIONED HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO KEEP LEFT LANE OPEN FOR EMERGENCY VEHICLES. LEFT LANE DRIVERS TRAVELING AT THE SAME SPEED AS RIGHT LANE COULD CREATE A TRAFFIC JAMB AND IMPEDE AN EMERGENCY VEHICLE FROM GETTING TO THEIR DESTINATION……TO POSSIBLY SAVE A LIFE!
    DON’T BE A ROAD RANGER…LET LAW ENFORCEMENT TAKE CARE OF SPEEDERS, BUT ALLOW EMERGENCY VEHICLES A CLEAR LANE TO RESPOND TO THEIR CALL. THE LIFE THEY SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN!

  2. Mario Raciti says,

    My question is what part of the word “Limit” doesn’t everyone including the police understand. Limit means not to exceed. If the posted speed limit is 55, no one should be going faster than that. Using the left lane to go faster than the posted speed limit to pass other drivers that are obeying the speed limit is breaking the law. If the speed limit is 55 and everyone is going 75, it sounds like what you say drivers should be doing is going with the flow of traffic and breaking the speed limit. What do I say to the police officer that pulls me over for doing 75mph in a 55mph zone, that I was doing nothing wrong, I was going with the flow of traffic. A judge in traffic court is not going to let me off paying the ticket and getting points on my license with that excuse. Why, because limit means limit, not to exceed. You need to stress that in your articles, that limit means not to exceed. The roads would be a lot safer if people obeyed the speed limit.

    • RANDY E LOGSDON says,

      Great point. Seems it the age of lawlessness. Still a 55mph vehicle will pull in front of a 75mph vehicle so that they can pass a 50mph vehicle. I don’t see any safety improvements or more steady flow of traffic. In fact if all drivers in the right lane are observing the posted limit and the right lane soaks up the majority of the traffic then the right lane will most likely become overwhelmed and saturated and the speed will decrease slowing the majority of the law biding drivers. The reason for multiple lanes is not for passing but to relieve congestion except for the autobon in Germany. They even pass on the right at Daytona, etc.

    • Arturo says,

      You’re right. To put succinctly, speeding is against the law. However, you drive long enough, you’ll eventually see signs, like ‘left lane for passing only’ or this kicker, ‘slower traffic keep right’. Let the cops catch the lawbreakers and let the drivers drive safe. That is, drive on the right, pass on the left. Don’t be the old curmudgeon that insists on obeying the law by doing the speed limit in the left lane.

    • Andy says,

      Realistically, it’s hard to stay in the right hand lane, since many drivers here in Florida erratically race on to, and off of, the freeways. So even though I will creep along at 5-7 MPH over the posted limit at times, I will move to the left lane if I know a busy on/off ramp is coming up. I apologise to all of the left lane drivers for this, as it must be annoying, but I always try to get back over to the right as soon as I’m able.
      However, when I’m in a hurry in the left, it seems that no one moves out of the way. And it’s even more aggravating when they’re matching the speed of the cars in other lanes, and create a barricade. It’s mindless, selfish driving, but (at the risk of sounding like a pessimist) – I don’t think one article can fix something like that.

  3. Jayne Coleman says,

    In Kansas is there a law that says it is illegal to move over to the right lane when one is wanting to make a right turn off of a highway?? I do it to be courteous to the traffic behind me as well as it makes it easier for me also.

  4. Millie Frances McCormick says,

    This is the only way to drive safely then there is chance of someone who want’s the lane you are in, I have a Family who are all Truck Drivers I give them as much help as I can , I don’t get freaked out when I am surrounded by Trucks Driver when I move to another lane I give a signal then move over with the traffic my car mirrors help me more than anything , I’ve been driving since I was 15yrs old I have a very good record I hope I can keep it perfect as long as I drive

  5. Shawn says,

    Florida Statute 316.081 precludes drivers from driving continuously in the left lane. The debate is over. Left lane is for passing only. No excuses. Please obey the law.

    If I see you breaking this law, my horn is extra loud!

    – Florida safe driver

  6. Andrew says,

    Here in California, Slower drivers doesn’t know road courtesy to move to the right lane (when safe) if a car going more than your speed and wants to pass. They will just sit in that lane until you pass them from the right.

    • Jai says,

      so true & very frustrating and i now totally understand road rage and. I’ve passed people pn thw right & when i look over at them they smile/laugh/flip you the middle finger etc. this is why so many people get shot during commute or heavy traffic. playing unnecessary games. if you want to be a traffic controller or pace car go work at the airport or NASCAR.

  7. Mike says,

    In Connecticut, The Merritt Parkway ( back in the day,) “Keep to the Right except for Passing”, signs were posted. Drivers were much more courteous and adhered to the rule.The problem today is with trucks and vans and large S.U.V’s dominate the left lane causing most of the accidents and road rage, blocking the view of the traffic not being able to see road ahead.
    On the interstates (95) trucks and buses are not allowed in the left lanes.

  8. Wayne Smith says,

    The State of Alabama needs to adopt the same laws as Georgia and Tennessee. Traffic would flow better with less accidents on our interstate system and other 4-lane highways.

  9. Kowalsky says,

    In Europe if you are using left line for driving you will gat ticket and drivers simply follow the roles.
    Very simple and very effective.
    It brings driving more enjoyable.
    In USA and CANADA it is totally opposite. So many drivers are using left lane and they don’t care that that is not right. Police is very tolerant about that.
    That is my perception.
    I would like that drivers change that bad habit and to start to drive like all in civilized world.
    Am I asking for too much?

  10. Tim Johnson says,

    Those who do not move over when someone comes up behind them in the left lane are just asking for trouble. People fight over this very scenario daily. People get shot. Move over when someone runs up behind you in the left lane

  11. BARRY says,

    YOU KNOW, THAT IS FINE AND DANDY TO STAY RIGHT AND LET THE OTHERS PASS IN THE LEFT ONLY LANE. HOWEVER, LOGIC HAS TO BE USED AS IN SOME AREAS THERE IS SUCH A BOOM IN INDUSTRY THAT THOUSANDS OF WORKERS HAVE MOVED IN TO PERFORM THESE JOB THAT AT QUITTING TIME , YOU HAVE TO USE BOTH LANES TO KEEP TRAFFIC MOVING. AS I SAID USE COMMON SENCE. `AND I HOPE THE LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES DO SO.

  12. Joshua zohar says,

    I think that it’s a must to force the low on drivers how drive on the left line not for passing other car.

  13. Paul McG says,

    After fifty years of driving, I have seen no advantages to speeding. On long trips, we have been passed (sometimes on the right) by the same vehicle two or three times! Sometimes you can get a break or two, but usually not. Right lane passers put themselves in dangerous positions. Years back, most cars had no mirror on the right side, so overtaking on that side could be perilous. Basic courtesy by us all is needed. Pay attention! All the time. Both hands on the wheel (not one draped over to one side, for crying out loud!). And just flow with the average traffic speed. You’ll get there at the same time and be a bit more relaxed – and unharmed! :-))