Staff Columnist

I detest left-lane drivers - but are fines the best solution?

Iowa lawmakers join national movement to strengthen 'slowpoke' laws

Cars travel through the curve on Interstate 380, looking north from downtown Cedar Rapids on Thursday, May 17, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Cars travel through the curve on Interstate 380, looking north from downtown Cedar Rapids on Thursday, May 17, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

If you only ever internalize one thing from any of my columns, please heed my suggestion here — stay out of the left lane.

Left-lane loiterers are the scourge of highway travel, and I’m glad to see Iowa lawmakers have taken notice.

House File 74 would impose a $100 fine on Iowa drivers caught going too slow in the left lane of a highway. The bill has support from both Republicans and Democrats, and has already earned initial approval from a legislative panel.

Some drivers are oblivious to this important rule of the road. Traffic flow patterns are not intuitive and are not easily observable on a large scale, so many people don’t understand the risks of camping out in the left lane. I suspect some others resent speeders, and relish slowing them down.

Yes, breaking the speed limit can be dangerous, but there is strong evidence to show speed variation increases the chance of collisions. Slowpokes in the left lane increase variation by suddenly slowing down other drivers.

Luckily for critics of left-lane occupation, there is a growing movement in statehouses across the country to crack down on sluggish rebels of the road. Our neighbors in Illinois recently approved a $120 fine for left-lane drivers. A few law enforcement officers have gone viral with social media posts about pulling over those who abuse the left lane.

In addition to policy reform and law enforcement attention, there also is a grass roots movement to educate motorists — or at least to chastise the non-compliant.

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The satire website Babylon Bee aptly wrote last year, “Death penalty still permissible for people who drive slowly in the left lane, Pope Francis clarifies.”

There’s a group known as Left Lane Drivers of America, committed to “reducing the Left Lane congestion on our freeways and multilane highways by politely encouraging slow drivers to move over.” They sell windshield decals that read “move over” backward, so it can be read through a rearview mirror.

Every state has some form of a “slowpoke law,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, requiring slower motorists to stay out of the left lane. Some of those laws to not specify penalties, and they are seldom enforced.

As an evangelist for radically limited government, I cringe at the idea of pulling people over and issuing fines when they are not directly harming others.

However, as an Interstate-380 commuter, I see left-lane drivers as a menace. I have observed on many occasions how one inconsiderate or ignorant motorist can impede dozens of fellow travelers and test all of our brakes.

The reality is there is no way for police to efficiently or safely stop anyone who blocks the left lane. Instead, my hope is that the bill proposed in the Legislature will draw attention to the issue and help people become better educated about best practices for highway travel.

As Susan Cameron Daemen, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association, said in an interview with Radio Iowa this week, “Law enforcement isn’t interested in this so they can write tickets. They’re interested in this so the roadways can be safer.”

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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