What's the left lane for?

Ok folks, I grew up being told that the left lane was for passing. You are supposed to drive along in the right hand lane until you come up on another driver. Then you change to the left lane until you pass them and then get back in the right lane.

Am I alone in this? It seems that everyone else on the road just camps out in the left lane going just as fast as the drivers in the right lane, and it is driving me crazy.

So tell me, am I correct?

You are correct, the left lane is for passing.

If you want to see this enforced, go to Germany. Lollygagging in the left lane, as we do here, is verboten over there. If you are in the left lane and a porsche/BMW and flashes its lights at you to get you to move over and you don’t and he hits you, you are liable. It is strictly enforced over there.

Yes, but only if you’re going the speed limit.

(There was already a thread on this, but I can’t find it off-hand.)

Basically, it’s the slow traffic (going below the speed limit) that’s supposed to keep right; farm equipment, Amish buggies, vehicles which can’t go uphill at the speed , etc. Also, since most exits are to the right, traffic in those lanes naturally gets a little choked on speed.

But even if it’s legal, I wouldn’t suggest going 55 in the left lanes; some jerk is bound to tailgate, flash lights, and beep at you. (I liken it to going up to a crack dealer in a bad neighborhood and insulting him; sure it’s illegal for him to shoot you, but he probably will.) Said jerk will of course keep up the harrassment until you move over or slam on your brakes to piss him off more. :slight_smile:

I once got on the George Washington Parkway in Virginia and stayed in the right (slow) lane going the posted 50 MPH. (The GW is only two lanes each way and fairly curvy with lots of trees so drivers can’t usually see more than 1/2 mile ahead.) I not only got constantly passed by cars going 60-70 MPH, but got the beep/tailgate/light treatment as if I were in the left lane. And this all happened just a short time after a pair of aggressive drivers caused a fatal accident on the same stretch of road.

Thanks, dkgreath…this has always been a pet peeve of mine.

The left lane is for passing; that’s why it’s called the passing lane! Slower traffic (e.g., traffic doing between the minimum speed and speed limit) should keep right and all other traffic should also keep right except when passing. Anyone going slower than the minimum speed should get off the friggin’ road! (Amish be damned!).

Let’s face it folks, like it or not, most people speed on the interstate highways and people who stick in the passing lane create a hazard for the leadfoots out there.

technically, the left lane is for passing (assuming there are only 2 lanes. When there are three I learned that the middle is called the “traveling lane”)

Of course, if you live in Michigan and you are going 90 in a 75 zone, you are basically passing everyone, so why get back in the right?

I’ve noticed around here, people think of it as the “fast lane” & since everyone thinks they are going fast, they hang out in the left even when the right lane is actually going faster insane, isn’t it?

Technically, the left lane is for passing only. But here in New Jersey – and many other places, I’m sure – if non-passers stuck to the other lanes, the traffic would be so dense that people might get forced to go below the minimum speed! That’s why so many people drive in the left lane.

      • In Missouri a state law says that the left lane of interstates is only for passing other cars. I was told that this is because if someone gets onto the interstate highway going the wrong direction, there is a better chance of nobody getting killed - the offender is supposed to realize what they have done before they are looking into the headlights of an oncoming cement truck. I don’t often hear of this law enforced. Illinois has no such law, that I know of.
      • In many states, under some circumstances such as climbing big hills, large trucks and RV’s are restricted to the rightmost lane due to the fact that they tend to be slower going up hills than most cars. - MC

According to the California Driver’s Handbook, if you are in the left lane and someone is coming up behind you, you must get out of the way and let him pass – even if you are already going the maximum legal speed. Yes, the guy coming up behind you is speeding, but you are required to let him pass anyway.

In fact, if you’re in any lane other than the farthest right lane, you have an obligation (in California) to keep up with traffic – again, even if everyone around you is exceeding the speed limit.
MC wrote:

In most states, trucks (the big semis, not pick-up trucks) are restricted to the rightmost 2 lanes, regardless of whether they’re going uphill, downhill, level, upside-down, etc…

speaking from the hinterland of vermont…the passing lane is pretty much used for just that. i commute on interstate 89 every day, which is a two-lane interstate. a few people do tend to travel strictly in the left lane, but it’s only a few. i’ve also never seen a car in the right lane pass a car in the left, as i have witnessed in other states. in fact, there are signs on the interstate reminding you to drive in the left lane only if passing and to stick to the right lane at all other times.

sure makes driving nicer than in, say, boston.


I think a lot of people get confused about this, including myself because there’s a difference between how you should behave and what the law says. On some NY highways, there’s signs that specifically say “slower traffic keep right.” The definition of slower is vague–slower than other traffic or slower than the speed limit? I choose the former, but not everybody does. I don’t know of any true laws that govern this other than obeying that sign. Oh, and the speed limit. Always forget that one…

One of these days I’ll get in big trouble because of how fast I drive. I try very hard to not drive aggressively, though. If I come up on a pack of cars that’s simply going slow, it does nobody any good to tailgate the last guy. Sometimes I’ll get pushy if there’s a car “passing” another car at exactly the same speed.

Also, what should you do if you come upon someone in the left lane who’s going considerably slower than you? They may or may not change lanes as you approach. This is generally much worse than those in the right lane, since they’ll generally stay there except for unusual circumstances (i.e. they just entered the highway, they need to change lanes to get on another expressway or exit, they have to pass someone).

Given an open road and one car in the left lane, I will approach them until a few seconds before I need to start slowing down (slowing at a reasonable pace, not so close as to barely avoid colliding, silly) and turn on my right turn signal. If they don’t change lanes by this time, it’s a little better than 50% of the time they’ll stay there so I switch lanes and pass on the right. It’s really annoying because although I watch for non-obvious clues (glances to the rear-view mirror, partially changing lanes, etc.) I don’t have a surefire way to know if someone is going to switch lanes.

I’d recommend sticking to the right lane as much as possible. If you’re going to pass someone, try to spend less than 40 seconds in the passing lane–speed up a little if you have to. Of course, do the opposite if you’re not interested in your own safety and/or like to get people really mad. For some reason, it makes some people really happy to p*ss someone else off.

(flame on)

Oh yeah, and don’t do what this idiot did last night. I was behind him and he was going along at a good clip in the left lane, but his exit was coming up fast. He opted to turn on his signal and slow down until the traffic cleared on the right to make his exit. He eventually came to a complete stop, in a construction zone, at night, on a somewhat blind corner. I had to stop right behind him (completely) and just layed on my horn praying I wasn’t going to die via the truck barreling down at 65 mph, a thousand feet behind me. Fortunately the traffic cleared, he made his turn, and I gave my little Civic all it had to try to get back to speed.

I understand that he wanted to get off there and he just made a little error in judgement, but dammit!:
<center>Just go to the next exit!</center>

(flame off)

Thanks for letting me vent. :slight_smile:

I never get mad at someone blocking me in the left lane AS LONG AS they are passing someone. If they are barely speeding, but passing someone, I don’t have any right to get angry, tailgate, etc. But I hate idiots who get out there and travel the same speed. I also hate coming up to a red light and all the cars in the right lane fan out into the faster lanes at the light. Then when it turns green, guess what? They are all going the same damn speed. I always wonder about the feasability of having different classes of driving liscences ( kinda like the commercial classes). I know an 80 year old woman in an '85 Oldsmobile shouldn’t be going 85 on an interstate. But if I have the training, car, and Z rated tires, why the hell can’t I?

When I was reading the 1999 California Driver’s Guide, it said that passing on either side (left or right) was okay, but one should be more cautious passing on the right (due to something about different visibilities than a left pass or something).

Do the words “Slower traffic keep right” ring any bells? Those signs appear frequently on multi-lane highways here in Illinois.

Of course, many people don’t understand the concept and many people simply ignore it. Then there’s the odd geek who feels it’s his duty to drive the legal speed limit in the left lane and self-righteously declare to his wife or any others in his (frequently terrified) captive audience “If they’re going faster than I am, they are breaking the law and should learn to slow down” while pricks in Beamers plow furrows in the median going around them at 90 MPH.

“Things going in the same direction at the same speed don’t bump into each other” My dad’s susinct explanation of commonplace physics that those slow assholes on the highway seem to not grasp.

Ultimately, the governing feature for highway travel speeds should be the speed of cars around you. If 95% of the other cars on the road are doing 80 miles an hour, then pick it up to 80 because: a) Police are unlikely to pull over an entire road of 20 cars (except in Connecticut, where I have seen it happen multiple times) b) if you’re not the first or last car in a pack, it’s unlikely police will single you out (unless you have out-of-state plates in certain southern jurisdictions) and c) it’s speed differential that causes accidents, not absolute speed. If you are doing 65 miles an hour and NO ONE ELSE is going that slow there is the same danger level as if everyone else were doing 65 and you were going much faster.

Also, your lane speed should govern your speed. If people have to keep moving to the left or right to pass you (not just one or two, but everyone) move to the right or pick it up a bit. Likewise, if you are cruising down the road (and chances are you have new york plates and drive a Saab or a Beamer… you know who you are) and you pass EVERY car, move to the left or slow down a bit.

Jason R Remy

“And it could be safely said that at that moment, in the whole of India, no one, absolutely no one, was f^(king a goat.”
– John Irving A Son of the Circus (1994)

I drive in the left lane at the speed limit, just to piss you off! (not) BTW, why is it that most drivers consider the speed limit to be the minimum, it’s the MAXINUM. However, observing the posted speed can get one runover! Go with the flow!


What’s with these stretches of interstate where “trucks keep left” signs are put up?Some are in Wisconsin that I remember.

I am an incorrigible road junkie, and can probably tackle this one for you.

In areas with short acceleration zones (you see this alot in areas under construction!) there are often warnings for trucks to keep left (as opposed to keeping right, the ususal command) This is to allow cars some breathing room in getting on the highway where there are these short acceleration zones. Often, when leaving construction areas, the signs change telling trucks to move back to the right lanes.

Jason R Remy

“And it could be safely said that at that moment, in the whole of India, no one, absolutely no one, was f^(king a goat.”
– John Irving A Son of the Circus (1994)

Actually, it’s 40 MPH (not that you’d know by the traffic flow). It’s my least favorite local roadway - I’ll drive the Beltway and take my chances with the trucks rather than drive the parkway at night (conditions as described above WITH NO LIGHTING WHATSOEVER - no neighborhoods to reflect light, no lights along the road, and oh, don’t forget the lanes that suddenly become exit/merge lanes with no warning.

Each state has its own laws, so, you have to check with the laws of the local state in which you are motoring.

In New Jersey, passing on the right is illegal. This necessitates passing on the left only.

In NJ city/suburban traffic, passing on the right through the shoulder (other regions call it the break-down lane or some such) is common (you’ll be honked-at if you don’t). It is so common, that police cars do it, and no one ever gets ticketed.

On highways in NJ, passing on the right is relatively rare (compared to other states, such as New York or Delaware hiway driving). Not only because of the law, but because the hiways regular post Left Lane for Passing Only signs. Since the vast majority of NJ drivers abide by this, I prefer hiway driving in NJ moreso than any other state, even given the density of NJ traffic. It just makes driving easier to make everyone pass on the left.

And yes, flashing brights at the non-passing left-lane-driving cars is the normal wake-up call to get out of the way.


Having done my driving test in the UK I have personal experience of that fact that if the examiner asks you what the correct name for the (in this case) right-hand lane is and you reply with “the fast lane” rather than “the overtaking lane” he will deduct a point for an incorrect answer. In reply to Shirley’s comment on German autobahns, they are indeed very fluid and fast, and deliberately obstructing traffic in the overtaking lane is against the law, however screaming up behind them, sitting on their bumper, flashing your lights and honking your horn is a more serious one and if the car in front has witnesses this can lead to prosecution, it is called “Nötigung”. Additionally, as almost everywhere else, if you rear-end somebody who wasn’t breaking the law or driving in a reckless manner, it is your fault and not theirs, even if they were crawling along in the overtaking lane.

The high speeds achievable on the German motorways come about because people don’t pull out way ahead of the car they are going to overtake, and pull back in as soon as they are done. That and the fact that it isn’t against the law I guess.

It only hurts when I laugh.