Is the left lane JUST for passing

Here is a debate most people fight over.

You are supposed to pass in the left lane ride in the right. However we all have seen people ride in the left.

The argument usually being people in the left lane are going 55 (or whatever the speed limit) and therefore no one could LEGALLY pass them anyway so what are they hurting.

Any thoughts?

I have no real idea what the legal “rules” on this, but I always ride on the left. All the time.

I am from L.A., where multi-lane highways and freeways are the norm. I was always taught, drive in the left lane if you are going faster than the rest of traffic. And, in California, it seems to work this way, even when the highway is only two lanes each way.

However, I have noticed in other places in the country where all the cars are all squeezed in the right lane, single file, occasionally darting over to the left lane to pass. This seems totally unnatural to me, since where I come from, people don’t do it that way. So I don’t do it. I drive in the left lane, happily.

But, just because I do it doesn’t mean it’s “correct”. But I see no safety hazard in it, as long as people are driving in a reasonable manner, not tailgating, weaving in and out, etc.

I’ve driven 10’s of 1000’s of interstate miles in multiple states in the left without incident. A couple of passangers have mentioned it was illegal, but never a cop.

It’s also technically illegal in Kentucky; however, I simply follow the rule that, if I’m consistently passing traffic in the right lane, I stay in the left. I keep a close eye on the rearview, and if I see upcoming traffic behind, I move over.


In my opinion, which ain’t so humble, drivers should use common sense rather than follow the strict letter of the law.

If everyone in the right lane is doing 50 and the speed limit is 75 then I’m hanging out in the left lane. Of couse, I’m usually doing 90, but I’m not going to hold a grudge against some guy doing the speed limit in the left lane.

Unless, of course, the right lane is open or everyone in the right lane is doing 75, in which case the guy in the left lane doing 75 should jump over and let me pass. The whole concept is really easy*:

  1. Try to stay in the right lane.

  2. If people in the right are slowing you down, then you should get into the left lane, as long as you aren’t screwing someone over who is already in the left lane.

  3. The entire time you are in the left lane, you should be watching behind you to make sure no one else is gaining on you rapidly. If someone is gaining on you rapidly you should freakin’ signal and then, when it is safe, merge into the right lane and let the speedster pass.

  4. After step three: as soon as the speedster passes you, you should immediately swerve into the left lane as soon as possible, accelerate to the same speed as the speedster and then try to use him as a moving radar-block[tm] based on the theory that he will get nailed before you will.

*One of these steps may be really dangerous, but very practical and fun. Use at your own risk.

Uhh, let me guess - you’re one of the fellows who’s using common sense.

Some states have signs that tell entering drivers that the left lane is only to be used for passing. On many, if not most, California freeways there are too many cars on the road to leave the left lane unoccupied (and I don’t think CA has the prohibition anyway).

I usually drive in the left lane until I’m close to my exit because I tend to drive faster than most people. Even when the traffic is slow I use the left lane because I only have 180 degrees to check for other cars instead of 360 (yes, I look around when I drive). If traffic is moving well and I’m in the left lane and someone is gaining on me, I’ll move to the right to let him pass.

Note: In California it’s legal for motorcycles to share lanes with cars. That is, they can pass lines of cars by riding between the lanes. Several years ago the California Highway Patrol had a study that said the practice is “not particularly unsafe”. Please keep an eye out for motorcyclists and give us a little extra room if you can. We’ll only be next to you for a fraction of a second.

[Rant Mode ON]
As I said, I look around when I drive. I plan my moves in advance. I constantly compare other cars’ speeds and trajectories to my own. I make an effort to not be distracted by the radio, coffee, crashes, and so forth.

When I’m doing my scan I see people staring straight ahead with a glazed expression on their faces. Or they’re talking on cell phones, often gesturing so that they do not have a hand on the wheel. Or they’re doing any number of things that could/would distract them from the process of driving.

IMO, most of the drivers I share the road with are not “drivers” at all; they’re passengers who just happen to be in the left seat.

Driving should be a tactical situation where one is constantly on-guard for the unexpected. These motor-zombies make me nervous. Look around next time you’re driving and you’ll see what I mean.
[Rant Mode OFF]

The “official” word on California left-lane policy (as presented in the traffic school I attended a few years ago) is this:

If you’re in the left lane another car is coming up from behind (i.e. going faster than you), you are obliged to get out of its way, even if you’re already driving at or above the speed limit. Failure to do so can qualify as obstructing traffic. However, if you’re not blocking anybody, it’s perfectly legal to stay in the left lane. It is suggested that the left lane only be used for passing, but it is not required. I have never seen a highway sign in California that said “Left lane for passing only”; the closest thing I’ve seen are signs that say “Slower traffic keep right.”

Incidentally, many California freeways have turned their leftmost lane into a “diamond lane”, that is, a high-occupancy-vehicle or carpool lane (although some of these lanes marked with diamonds are only carpool lanes during rush-hour). As far as I know, the get-out-of-the-way rule for “normal” left lanes does not apply to a carpool lane, and only the less-stringent “keep up with traffic” rule of the freeway lanes between the leftmost and rightmost lane applies.

The truth, as always, is more complicated than that.

Another reason to drive on the left is when the right lanes are trashed due to a high volume of truck traffic. Here in Ga., trucks are restricted to the rightmost lanes. This tends to make them very rough and uncomfortable to drive on.

As a fellow Californian and motorcyclist, I must speak up here. Whoever said that sharing lanes was not unsafe must have been a nut. There is no reason a motorcyclist needs to pass between cars. If it is that packed, just wait with everyone else, until you can pass safely. I still look back to when I learned to drive a motorcycle, and the biggest safety rule was to always leave yourself an “out”, meaning a place to go if you need to avoid a collision. If you are riding between two cars, this simply is just not an option. Driving between other motorists is just as stupid as riding without a helmet(I believe there are still some states that allow this, idiots.)

As far as the left lane policy goes, I agree with the other posters that the left lane is an acceptable place to drive as long as no one is waiting behind you and you are consistently going faster than the people in the right lane.

Ok, ok, I’m guilty of this as well… radar-block[tm]:I love it! LOL!
Have you ever done “pack driving”? Five or six people have this idea all at the same time and travel as a protective pack, partly as a radar block and partly to justify, if they do get caught, their speed with that old “flow of traffic” clause. :wink:

“I’ve got a DungeonMaster’s guide, I’ve got a twelve-sided die, I’ve got Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler too, waiting there for me, yes I do.”
Weezer-In the Garage

Getting back to the OP, the laws on this differ from state to state. However, they are not enforced anywhere as far as I know. In Illinois the left lane is only for passing, in Kansas there is no restriction on it but you should yield the left lane to someone who wishes to pass you.

My wife got pulled over for doing it in New Brunswick, Canada. We explained that we’re not from around there, and the cop let us off with a warning.

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

In Kansas, it was used as a pretext for a stop by a state patrol officer. Of course, it was patently clear after a few moments he really wanted to bust me for drug-running.

In all the time I have heard this debate, I have yet to have anyone point to an actual statute that prohibited driving in the left-hand lane of a two-lane freeway or highway. Anyone with a citation to an actual statute is welcome to offer same at this point; otherwise, frankly, all you can say is: I don’t know. :wink:


I take it you’ve never shared lanes on a motorcycle. If you had, then you would know that there is a surprising amount of room between lanes.

If you feel that way, then don’t share lanes. But then, what would be the point of being on a motorcycle? The fact is that, having done it for about 100,000 miles and being habitually aware of what happens around me when I’m operating a vehicle, I can attest that lane sharing is not very dangerous. There is almost always an “out”, as long as your speed matches the conditions.

Of course there is a “need” for motorcycles to share lanes. It takes about 80 minutes for me to make my 43 mile commute on four wheels. On two wheels it takes about 50.

IMO, the people who claim that motorcycles “scare” them when they share lanes are the people who are, as I stated in one thread or another, mearly “left-seat passengers”. If they can’t pay attention to driving, they should get off of the road.

Johnny L.A. -

i must say that i agree with your "left-seat passenger" theory.
however, regarding lane-sharing, if the traffic is slow, fine. but if it's heavy traffic moving at 50 or so, don't do it. i don't want your body splattered on my windshield because the guy in front of both of us suddenly swerved.
i like to have space around me when i drive. it's a buffer zone in case the idiot "left-seat driver" in front of me swerves. and if a bike is lane-sharing with me, it interferes with my sense of safety. not so much for me (cause my volvo isn't going to be hurt by your bike should we collide), but for you.


for the record, i believe you should only be in the left lane if passing, especially if there are only two lanes.


I’m sorry; I just assumed that one lane-shares only when traffic is slow. But you are correct. There are people who ride 80 MPH when traffic is going 50. I’ve also seen motorcycles go share lanes in slow traffic at speeds I would consider unsafe. Based on my experience, I believe that if you are operating at a safe speed then lane-sharing is not particularly unsafe.

Oh, and I apologise for my last post if it sounded somewhat confrontational. At work, end of the day, chained to my desk…

JohnnyLA -

i took no umbrage at your post, don't worry.
i just wanted to clarify that i think some cyclists (just like some drivers) do not drive safely, and that seeing a cyclist driving unsafely worries me more than seeing a car being driven unsafely, as a bike seems inherently more dangerous to the driver.


I know that in Washington (the State–[aside] people who live in WA must have a complex since it’s always referred to as “Washington State” [/aside]) it is illegal to pass on the right. And in CA, I believe motorcycles can split lanes only if traffic is moving less than 20 mph.

It’s not how you pick your nose, it’s where you put the boogers

Good to know, since I plan to move up there. But what do you mean by “pass on the right”? If someone is driving slower than other traffic in the left lane, can’t you go around? I did notice that people tended to drive in the right lanes up there, except for around Seattle.

Safety on bikes… If you’re being hit, you’re better off in a car. OTOH the bike, being more maneuverable and with a higher power-to-weight ratio, can often get out of a dangerous situation more easily than a car. I think it’s personal responsibility. If you ride, or drive, like a jerk, you probably deserve what happens to you. The good thing about jerks on motorcycles is that they’re far away from you in a short time.

I know it sounds ridiculous to us californians, but the law, as I understand it, is that you simply can’t pass on the right. There are signs posted, also with the warning that slow traffic should stay out of the left lane.