Should You Only Use The Left Lane To Pass?

cars passing on highwayDo 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.

You’ll Avoid Tickets And Fines

People 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, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation, 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.

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. 

Before you take off to your next destination, get a fast, free auto insurance quote from GEICO to see how much you could save.

By Kara Cutruzzula

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  1. melinuxfool says

    The general rule I was taught is that one should always stay in the right-most lane on any road, highway or not, and only depart from the right-most lane to overtake slower vehicles or position yourself for an upcoming left turn, and indeed, the law in my state agrees with what I was taught, and applies no matter what the speed of the road, and no matter how many lanes there are on the road.

    But you get to a three lane highway, and everyone wants the center lane, leaving the right lane nearly empty, leaving me to wonder why we even bother having three-lane highways at all if people are going to drive as if the right lane doesn’t even exist.

  2. Sam Vanderburg says

    This really does little to expose the dangers of staying in the left lane. How about digging deeper into that?

  3. Dug says

    Sounds like they have a contradiction. Either let people drive in the left lane at the speed limit, or raise or eliminate the speed limit. They caused this problem by not being consistent.

  4. Jesse says

    Most states have left lane passing only law. In fact it’s against the law to pass on the right. So my question is which law is more illegal to break? Which one keeps the harmony on the open road? It sure isn’t non-law enforcement people playing cops, that’s for sure.

  5. Eric Andrews says

    Being safe and making commutes smooth is not selfishly driving whatever speed you want over a speed limit. Speed limits are created for safety purposes and for traffic flow. There will likely always be people that are selfish or don’t care about the law. The solution for society is not to cater to these people and move out of their way so that they can do what they want. The solution is to realize that speed limits are there for good reason, everyone abide by them for the safety and smooth flow of everyone on the road, and enforce punishment for those that speed. You also can’t assume all speeding vehicles have an emergency either. Official emergency vehicles have flashing lights and sounds.

    If you are under the speed limit, or if you are in a place like Germany where there are sections with no limit, then moving over makes sense for traffic flow and safety. If you are at the limit in the left lane, then there is no need to move over unless there is an emergency vehicle approaching from behind or there is open room in the right lane to move over for potential emergency vehicles. Speeding (selfishly thinking your schedule, impatience, or driving skills are above the law) and following too closely are what need to change, not those who are abiding by the speed limit (aka the law) in the left lane.
    Posted signs that instruct to “keep right except to pass” applies to passing when you are still within the speed limit. Passing is not an exception to the posted speed limit unless maybe you’re an emergency vehicle. Even emergency vehicles need to maintain safe speeds.

    Being late to work or any type of appointment does not qualify as an emergency that justifies speeding and thus reduced safety for the rest of society.
    If you are exceeding the speed limit without a legitimate emergency, then you are putting everyone else’s safety at risk and do not deserve respect or courtesy to pass. You deserve to be put in jail and taught how to be an unselfish law-abiding citizen.

    • Ray says

      Eric Andrews there is a sign on the highway put up by state officials that says “Slower traffic keep right”………..stop being a selfish stubborn driver and move over for faster traffic. Law enforcement also put out a video telling people to move over for faster drivers. They said they will catch and deal with speeding drivers. They said to just get out of the way and don’t exacerbate situations on the road and they will sooner or later get that speeder.
      You’re not being a good driver by refusing to get out of the way ….but you are putting yourself and others on the road in possible danger by not moving and stirring up possible road rage………….think of others and not just your rights on the road

      • Lynn Clark says

        Well, good luck with that thought, Ray! There is not enough law enforcement on the roads to stop drivers maintaining excessive speeds. In Florida, there are drivers traveling at 10 – 20 mph OVER the speed limit. I am normally traveling about 5 mph above the limit on a given highway, and while I am cognizant if someone is “on my tail,” I do not feel obligated to immediately get out of his/her way if that person is driving at a speed well over the limit. In other words, slow the heck down and stop endangering other drivers!

    • Steve says

      Keeping right except to pass takes precedence as not doing so causes significantly more issues than speeding; for example, accidents and traffic congestion. It is your legal obligation to always be passing if not in the right lane.

    • Sam Vanderburg says

      Yes, if you are driving at the speed limit, there is need to be in the right lane. It is called your own safety. Statistics show that the most dangerous lane is the left lane for several reasons: crossovers into your lane from opposing traffic is a certain guarantee of death. Defensive driving courses teach you to stay out of the left lane except when passing. Your obedience does not meant that person behind you will. And they will not respect your right to obey the law. But, there is not need for the increased risk of injury or death by remaining in the left lane other than for passing.

    • Ricardo says

      Regardless if you’re driving the speed limit , the left lane is for passing and it’s people like yourself that disrupt traffic as well as causing accidents because you fail to understand the simple concept that” THE LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING ” !!!! What part of that don’t you understand ??????

  6. Yvonne Carlan says

    Oftentimes in Florida, a driver passing in the left lane can’t get over b/c the middle lane is jammed with cars. Then you have the “jerk” who is on your tail b/c he is traveling 20 mph over the speed limit. He/she just can’t wait until you have the opportunity to move over, so this driver zig-zags over to the right lane to pass everyone on the road. You can tell he/she is just too impatient to wait. That’s the reason for so much road rage these days!

    • melinuxfool says

      Which wouldn’t happen if the drivers in the center lane had been following the keep right rule in the first place. If the right lane is wide open like that, then people ought not be handing out in the center lane.

  7. MC says

    I really wish more drivers would follow this advice. I hate passing someone on the right, but people who refuse to move over leave no choice. It’s so much more dangerous. I often end up driving in the far right lane here in Florida – usually there is nobody in it.

  8. Charles Sanderson says

    It just really depends, most of the time, yes the left lane should be used for passing. Having over a million safe driving miles in 18 wheelers, big trucks whatever I have see some real knuckleheads that think the left lane is all theirs to put around in. When I was driving we called it the travel lane as long as you were not slowing traffic behind you, especially when going by on ramps inside city limits or anywhere there were several on ramps in short distances. That is why some OTR drivers are staying in the left lane through your smaller cities that only have 2 lanes going both ways. It is much safer for people getting on the highway, for the 18 wheelers and others.

  9. Jo A says

    If in right lane can’t get over,will slow down let one or two cars on coming down the ramp my lane

  10. Anthony Paul Onyejekwe says

    It makes a lot of sense to maintain lane courtesy to avoid accident. It is good to use it and pass a car and then get back to your lane. It is very relaxing if one does that. It make one not to drive very fast as speeding cars are always approaching very close if one is on the left lane.

  11. Ronnie says

    In Florida, one of the last things Governor, Jeb Bush, signed before leaving office was you don’t have to move over in the left lane if one is doing the speed limit. It is a ridiculous law.
    I see road rage and drivers zipping in and out of lanes to get around the cars that hold back in the left lane. The I-4 corridor is one of the worst when it comes to drivers in the left lane not keeping up with other lanes. It creates accident.