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. Bob says,

    Wait a minute…….I drive in the left lane doing 70 in a 65 zone passing cars going 60 in the right lanes and behind me there are 8 cars lined up on my bumper trying to get by so i’m in so many words going to get a ticket for being slow?

  2. Tara Doring says,

    Geico has insured me for the past 8 years and they treat me like a Princess. On a different note, let us just face it that you have to be alert every second on the road. I have been driving for over twenty years. Drivers pass by doing plus 80 mph easy. It is a shame but this is what is happening. Defensive driving training is a must. Be careful and do not feel pressured to speed. Your Long Island friend, Tara Doring.

  3. Mike DeMaria says,

    Lots of talk about road rage but never a mention of the idiots that cause it.
    Should idiots be ignored? How?

  4. Onur says,

    I don’t know about other parts of the country, but the problem in CA is the lack of enforcement of the law. I have never heard anybody getting pulled over because of driving slowly on left lane. The police just doesn’t seem to care about it, because “everybody does it”. If we want this to change, there should be tighter enforcement.

  5. Carlo DiPaolo says,

    This seems to be an American problem. I visit Europe every summer and spend a lot of time in Italy where I drive a lot. It is a very rare event to find a driver using the left lane unless they are overtaking. Italians tend to have a reputation for being crazy speeding drivers but I do not agree. In Italy like the UK, France, Spain, Germany, etc, the drivers are just better skilled than here at home. They abide by the standard traditional road rules like staying right except to pass. They are also more alert and I believe a lot of that has to do with the large percentage of manual shift cars.

  6. Marianne Moore says,

    Exception becomes the rule here. Often when traveling on the freeway you have addiional lanes. The left will be used for paired commuting. Express lane is often used by buses and emergency vehicles. It is reccomended that on multi lanes having on ramps, that the second lane from the right is safer travel than the far right and not as disruptive to already established traffic flow.

  7. Marianne Moire says,

    Sometimes I forget that we are typically a birder town. On occasion I have found cars going the wrong way one the freeway, in the passing lane, Mexico plates were on those cars as they went by. That has turned out to be life saving for me to be in the right lane each time that has happened! Being a defensive driver at all tim es saves lives. People, myself included are human and to be human is to error making it very profitable for you to be an insurance company.

  8. Augie uleckas says,

    Driving laws are absurd. They are rarely enforced. I have always proposed hiring thousands of patrol cars and let them get paid by commission. The money earned can be used to improve highways, provide more jobs and most of all save lives. Why do we have laws?
    They are made to be broken! There are more people killed on the highway than in our wars!

  9. VAN JOHNSON says,


    • Arturo says,

      This is just one article from them, so maybe they will in another. But smartphone use while driving is against the law in most states and if you’ve not seen anything about this during commercials on tv, radio, and/or other media, then you must be off the grid somehow. I see stuff about how cell phones cause accidents and not to use them while driving all the time!

  10. Scott Herstin says,

    Left lane hogs are discourteous and a safety hazard as they encourage others to weave in and out of traffic. I saw a bumper sticker here in Naples that said: “When I retire I am moving North and driving slow in the left lane.”

    • James Seats says,

      If the “left lane hog” is maintaining the posted maximum speed limit, YOU are the safety hazard by driving like a maniac because someone respecting the law has the nerve to get in “your way”. I notice the weaving stops when an Officer shows up and “speeders” act like they ought to until again out of sight of the Police.

    • Dew says,

      What constitutes a left lane hog? I hope you don’t mean that it is anyone who drives slower than you! I am not obligated to move over if you are going 15 to20 mph over the limit.

    • marian beierle says,

      yes, because they don’t enforce it! I’ve gone to Kutztown/Allentown, where 30 MILES out of 48, someone is in the left lane. This is a VERY FREQUENT OCCURANCE. What do I do, call 911? It’s not an emergency, and it shouldn’t be my job.

  11. Carlos Pacheco says,

    I recommend that discipline when driving is always the best and correct approach.
    Take your time and plan your trip to avoid road problems.

  12. Beverly Clark says,

    A pet peeve of mine is so few courteous drivers on the road. Somewhere along their lives they forgot to share. We share the highway. Not yours and not mine. I travel I95 from Jacksonville, FL, south and it is as if few know the rules of the road or care if they are causing a problem. Front car travel at 70 mph and when you get 20 or thirty cars back you are going close to 60 mph. Could be 45 the effect is the same. We vary our speed as the foot tires or it gets lighter as we need to move to keep our circulation going and flexing our muscles. I have cruise control and do not use it as I need to feel in control and alert on the highway with as much traffic as there is. In areas you can see ahead a quarter of a mile and there is not one car or truck in the right lane. Trucks take space to move and stop and how many of us let them in when coming upon a busy on ramp. I can see their staying in the middle lane. It is easier for me to go thru Atlanta, GA, than to go from Palm Coast to South Duval County. Move to the right unless passing but then we are here and the ignorant and less courteous ones will not be reading our frustrations. Thank you Geico for letting us have our say.

    • Arturo says,

      I live in Jacksonville, but I drive all over the southeast for work. So I know you’re comment about the Palm Coast to Jacksonville stretch versus driving in Atlanta is a bit of an exaggeration. It seems this driving peeve has become pandemic, as I’m experiencing this everywhere from big cities to backwater towns. But, yes, thanks to GEICO for putting this issue in print.