By Bob Dyer
My final column of 2005 drew more response than any other column all year.
For those of you who missed it (50 lashes), we were talking about Left-Lane Hogs, those oblivious (or selfish) drivers who putter along in the left lane of a multilane highway at 6 mph below the speed limit, failing to notice (or, perhaps, care about) the long line of seething motorists stacking up behind them.
The responses came in two flavors: A.) “Off with their heads.” B.) “If the speed limit is 55 and I’m driving 55 or a little under, I can be in any lane I want. People shouldn’t speed.”
Who won? The A-side was the Pittsburgh Steelers and the B-side was the Cleveland Browns.
Given that overwhelming sentiment, coupled with the belief of safety experts that the smooth flow of traffic is more important than its speed, why doesn’t the state of Ohio make more of an effort to move over these impediments to civic harmony, like other states do?
Well, one reader attributes it to a conspiracy between lawmakers and the Ohio Department of Transportation.
A retired state trooper (who requested anonymity) says: “Some years ago there was a law . . . that prohibited left-lane travel on multilane highways except for passing, making left turns or when the right lane was obstructed.”
In his day, he says, the law “was enforced as situations dictated. (But) after I retired, I noticed there apparently was no enforcement action.”
Bothered by that fact, he made inquiries and was told the law fell from favor because ODOT didn’t like it. When he asked why, he was told ODOT feared that the right lanes would wear out prematurely.
ODOT headquarters in Columbus says it cannot confirm whether it ever lobbied for such a change, but says it would have no objection to a harder push to keep slower drivers to the right.
“Where motorists drive is not a concern for us,” says spokesman Joel Hunt.
In fact, Ohio still does have such a law on the books. Check out Section 4511.25 of the Ohio Revised Code, paying special attention to Paragraph 5(b):
“Upon all roadways, any vehicle or trackless trolley proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and condition then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane . . . except when overtaking and passing another vehicle . . . proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn.”
So the problem isn’t the law. It’s a lack of education and enforcement.
Any state legislators out there looking to curry favor with a huge majority of voters? A good first step would be a push to follow the lead of Texas, which seven years ago instructed its transportation department to gradually replace its “Slower Traffic Keep Right” signs with signs that say “Left Lane for Passing Only.”
Then, of course, the issue becomes enforcement. How much effort are cops going to make, given their other duties?
The best solution may be education. A lot more signs would help. So would more emphasis in driver training.
The president of the area’s premier driver-training program, DriveTeam, is a believer. “The far left lane is for passing!” says Ken Stout.
But he notes that things get a little trickier on interstates that have three lanes each direction.
“We (teach) entering into the right-hand lane and then, as traffic allows, moving left into the center lane, thus allowing other traffic to enter and exit without interference from your vehicle.” The center lane also offers more crash-avoidance routes, he says.
Stout attributes some Left-Lane Hoggism to a lack of driving skill. “The left lane provides them with a lane guide they get from the center divider.” His solution: Learn to use your side mirrors and use the painted lane lines as a guide. “Other drivers would appreciate it, traffic would move better and our weaker drivers would get better.”