No swift justice for left-lane dawdlers

Melissa Preddy
Car Culture

If I ever have a stroke behind the wheel, it doubtless will come when I’m 11th in the 58-miles-per-hour queue behind an oblivious left-lane hog on the two-lane stretch of one of Michigan’s divided highways.

It’s difficult to imagine the self-absorption necessary to not notice that one has chosen to force many other motorists to dawdle below the lawful speed limit by tooling along abreast of a speed-limited semi or other slow mover, effectively blocking anyone coming up behind at a legal 70 mph. Over and over I have wondered “How can they not notice what they are doing to the rest of us, who have somewhere we need to be today?”

Well, maybe they won’t take the hint from the grimaces and flashing headlights in their rearview mirrors, but this spring, perhaps some of them will take note of the flashing red lights of a State Police vehicle in warm pursuit.

I admit to a satisfied smirk upon hearing that troopers in western Michigan are embarking on a concerted “educational campaign” to warn left-lane slowpokes that they actually are breaking the law by blocking the passage of faster vehicles. The effort, out of the Lakeview and Rockford State Police posts, will run through the end of April.

Will we be so lucky in Metro Detroit?

First Lt. Mike Shaw, commander of the second district’s special enforcement unit, tempered my glee somewhat. He confirmed that troopers will, as always, enforce the law — which does technically prohibit driving in the left lane of two-lane Michigan roads except in passing and other special circumstances — but pointed out that it’s less of an issue in southeast Michigan because we simply have fewer two-lane stretches.

Yes, there are narrow bugaboos like M-14 and M-53 where the problem of “southpaw drivers” does apply, but for the most part we crisscross the region on three-lane expressways, and where there are three or more lanes, anything under the speed limit goes.

Here’s what Sec. 257.634 of Michigan’s Vehicle Code says: Upon each roadway of sufficient width, the driver of a vehicle shall drive the vehicle upon the right half of the roadway, except as follows: When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing that movement.

In other words, Shaw said, if you’re in the left lane of a two-lane roadway you’re supposed to be driving the speed limit, or close to it, for the purpose of overtaking right-lane traffic. You’re not going to get pulled over for breaking the law if you’re doing somewhere close to 70 mph, but you could be in line for a ticket and a fine if a trooper decides you are dawdling along instead of using the lane for its intended purpose.

There are of course exceptions: heavy traffic, roadwork, preparing to make a left turn or take a left-hand exit ramp. But technically, the law is on the side of those of us exasperated with left-lane squatters.

The exasperation seems to be spreading. A news search turns up recent left-lane crackdowns from Florida and Alabama to British Columbia.

And 2015 Expedia Road Rage Survey found the left-lane hog only slightly less infuriating to fellow motorists than “the tailgater” (No. 2) and the No. 1 annoying behind-the-wheel bane, “the texter.”

Shaw acknowledges the annoyance and danger level of all three, although subtly putting impatient drivers like me in our place.

“We have seen a loss of courtesy on the roadways,” he said. “Commuting has become more of a competition than a way to get to work. Flashing lights, tailgating, deliberately cutting people off as close as possible — we see more of that. People need to leave a little earlier and stop worrying about who’s in the left lane.”

Meanwhile, he said, troopers in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties this spring will concentrate more on distracted drivers, so motorists might want to put down the cell phone and drive — or risk being pulled over.

“It’s not the slow person that’s the problem,” he said. “It’s the people with a Big Mac in one hand and an iPad in the other.”

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via