WA bill would ticket people for driving below the speed limit

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Text of SB 6105’s proposed changes

If you drive slower than the speed limit, you could get a speeding ticket. Well, that is if Spokane’s Sen. Michael Baumgartner has his way.

“The slower they drive, the higher the fine,” Baumgartner’s office said in a press release posted by the Herald. “It’s the same way speeding tickets work, but in reverse.”

So it’s illegal to go faster than the speed limit and, under this new bill, illegal to go slower than the speed limit. So the only way to obey the law in the left lane would be to go the exact speed limit.

Now, I have to believe that the Senator is simply trying to bring attention to the issue of people camping out in the left lane on highways. It’s a funny idea to give people tickets for driving under the speed limit, and he has certainly caught our attention.

The law already says you have to stay right except to pass. So if you’re in the left lane (except if HOV), you should be passing someone. But a lot of people don’t seem to get this, and this is a major trigger for people’s road rage. Baumgartner said left lane campers are “forcing other drivers to slam on their brakes, tailgate or weave around them to the right.”

Because there’s this paradox on our highways in which people so strongly expect to be able to drive 5–10 mph over the limit, and get frustrated when someone is obeying the speed limit. But at least when those rebels are staying right while obeying the law, others can pass them. That’s why people obeying the speed limit in the left lane is so annoying to so many people, you can’t pass them.

This video is a great illustration of the problem. Look what happens when people drive next to each other on all lanes of an LA freeway, then slow down to the speed limit:

I find there is a direct correlation between my happiness and how little time I spend on freeways. I feel awful for people who have to use them every day. We can make city streets better, safer and more social spaces. But the only solutions I know to urban freeways is to provide quality alternatives like regional bike routes and high capacity transit.

Well, and tear down the ones we don’t need, of course:

Here’s Baumgartner’s press release:

State Sen. Michael Baumgartner is taking aim at the road hogs who get into the fast lane — and just poke along.

In a bill introduced late last week in Olympia, the Spokane Republican proposes that left-lane drivers who drive slower than the speed limit be slapped with special penalties, when they drive continuously in the left lane and impede traffic. The slower they drive, the higher the fine. It’s the same way speeding tickets work, but in reverse.

“How often have you found yourself stuck in slow-moving freeway traffic because someone is hogging the fast lane?” Baumgartner asks. “If you drive back and forth on the freeways from Spokane to Olympia the way I do, you can’t help thinking there ought to be a law.”

Already the state of Washington makes it a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multilane highway, when it impedes the flow of traffic. The left lane is supposed to be used only for passing, moving aside for merging traffic, or preparing for a left turn.

Baumgartner says too many motorists haven’t gotten the message. So his bill, SB 6105, creates a new traffic offense of aggravated left-lane driving. In addition to the $124 fine for continuous left lane driving, a slowpoke could be slapped with additional penalties. They would start at $27 for one-to-five miles under the speed limit, and rise to $67 for 16-to-20 miles an hour under the limit.

“Poky left-lane drivers aren’t just a nuisance,” Baumgartner said. “They’re a safety hazard, forcing other drivers to slam on their brakes, tailgate or weave around them to the right. You can recognize them by the long line of frustrated drivers you’ll find right behind them. There ought to be a penalty for that sort of obliviousness.”

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28 Responses to WA bill would ticket people for driving below the speed limit

  1. Gary Yngve says:

    “Poky left-lane drivers aren’t just a nuisance,” Baumgartner said. “They’re a safety hazard, forcing other drivers to slam on their brakes, tailgate or weave around them to the right.”

    Ummm, they are not a safety hazard. If you don’t drive with the patience to keep sufficient distance ahead of you and wait for opportunities to pass safely, YOU are the safety hazard.

    • Josh says:

      Disparate speeds do create a safety hazard, but anyone who “has to” brake, tailgate, or swerve is reaping the consequences of their own Basic Rule violation — those are all symptoms of driving too fast for conditions.

  2. Van says:

    I would find this hilarious if I didn’t find it so troubling at the same time. Hilarious because it doesn’t affect me as a full-time cyclist, but troubling because as someone who used to drive a car I often felt uncomfortable with the mandate to go the speed limit, or in some cases to exceed it even by 5mph. One of the reasons I hated even driving a car at all was due to having to travel at a speed I felt downright unsafe traveling at (I’d been hit by cars as a ped and a cyclist before I started driving them so this may have influenced how I felt as a driver), but I was always scared I wouldn’t see someone/be able to stop in time.
    The problem with the highway as I have observed (from a bus) it is a high density of single occupancy vehicles, but this could be my own bias influencing my observation which is in no way scientific.
    I was also learned that the left was a passing lane, that you only used it to either pass or make a left hand turn, I did not know it was supposed to be the NASCAR lane. In any event, forcing people to go faster, is, ironically, not going to get anyone there any faster. I wonder if Sen Baumgartner has read the book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt, but I’d be delighted to chip in any donation for getting him a copy before he puts forward any more traffic related laws. Not that I don’t enjoy a good laugh, but I’m pretty sure he could spend his time in better pursuits.

    • Christin says:

      As a person who drives, rides public transit, and bikes, I share the same bias, but it might be my awareness and experience with physics (specifically, entropy) that leads me to believe the higher the density of objects and the greater their kinetic energy, the more likely they are to collide.

      Here’s a simpler proposal to reduce traffic and left lane collisions: turn a majority of the lanes into carpool only. It might not help Sen. Baumgartner personally on his frequent trips across our state, but it might actually decrease the number of traffic collisions and injuries occurring on the highway and decrease vehicular traffic. Added bonus: it incentivizes fewer drivers and lower fuel usage which would help our state meet GHG emission reduction targets (we only have 5 years left to reach 1990 levels – RCW 70.235.020) .

    • CP says:

      “I would find this hilarious if I didn’t find it so troubling at the same time. Hilarious because it doesn’t affect me as a full-time cyclist, but troubling because as someone who used to drive a car I often felt uncomfortable with the mandate to go the speed limit, or in some cases to exceed it even by 5mph. One of the reasons I hated even driving a car at all was due to having to travel at a speed I felt downright unsafe traveling at (I’d been hit by cars as a ped and a cyclist before I started driving them so this may have influenced how I felt as a driver), but I was always scared I wouldn’t see someone/be able to stop in time.”

      Your reasons for not wanting to travel at a high rate of speed are valid given your history. The point is not what YOU as an individual want or feel comfortable with, it is what the majority (society) is comfortable with. The whole aim of the law is so that INDIVIDUALS do not impede or delay the movement of others, regardless of their personal feelings about it. If someone disagrees, or does not want to travel at or over the speed limit, than why not disagree while cruising in the right lane? What is this infatuation with the left lane? Is it sexier than the right lane? I mean the current law already (basically) states do not cruise in the left lane if you are not passing people. Well, Sir, if you are going 55 mph and getting passed on the right than YOU are the a-hole, not everyone else. (To be clear, when I say “you” I am not specifically talking about you as a commentator on this blog, but “you” as a general term).

      “The problem with the highway as I have observed (from a bus) it is a high density of single occupancy vehicles, but this could be my own bias influencing my observation which is in no way scientific.”

      I agree.

      “I also learned that the left was a passing lane, that you only used it to either pass or make a left hand turn, I did not know it was supposed to be the NASCAR lane.”

      I’m no rocket scientist, but if you are in the left lane and you are passing cars, than I can reasonably determine that you are traveling at a faster pace. NASCAR lane though? Emotional response toward your feelings of cars traveling faster than you.

      “In any event, forcing people to go faster, is, ironically, not going to get anyone there any faster. I wonder if Sen Baumgartner has read the book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt, but I’d be delighted to chip in any donation for getting him a copy before he puts forward any more traffic related laws. Not that I don’t enjoy a good laugh, but I’m pretty sure he could spend his time in better pursuits.”

      Again, not about forcing people to go faster, its about forcing the people who tend to drive slower to stick to the right lanes (where you should already be given the law).

      For reference, MY history is never being in an accident. Not once. Why? I am not a scared driver, I am not timid, and I am not slow when making a decision. The times where I have almost died on the highway, though, have been the DIRECT FRICKIN’ RESULT of other driver’s indecisiveness and timidity. I am utterly scared of slow drivers and avoid them like the plague. “Merging onto I-5? 45 mph should be fine dear!”….. “Honey, the exit is coming up, better slow it down while changing through 2 lanes of traffic!”….. “Changing lanes to the right? Better put on my left blinker and slow it down, I can’t let the other people on the highway know what I am up to!”…. The list goes on and on.

      Seattle truly has the most dangerous drivers. Someone on hear mentioned LA drivers and I have to agree with them. The times I have driven in LA have been fantastic. Merging onto the highway? People 100% of the time SEE YOU COMING and change lanes for you. Traffic tight and you need to change lanes to get to an on-coming exit? People see what you are doing and make room. Down there, if you are not going with the flow of traffic than YOU ARE THE A-HOLE, not them. I mean jeez only in Seattle do people feel entitled to their lane/speed as if they own it.

  3. Cheif says:

    Career politicians with stances towards vehicular safety like this are part of the reason why it remains effectively legal to murder someone with your automobile.

  4. RDPence says:

    Problem is, most motorists driving the speed limit in the far left lane are already impeding traffic flow, since most traffic exceeds the speed limit most of the time. So I’m not sure where this proposed law would get us.

  5. Fnarf says:

    The people in the left lane who are “holding up traffic” are going 5-10 MPH over the speed limit, not under it. And the people who are annoyed by them want to go 10-20 MPH over. So my sympathy for their struggle is very limited indeed.

    I also don’t have much patience for that “passing lane” idea, which may have worked on old highways when traffic was light, but on a modern freeway with multiple lanes, all of which are full, it’s obnoxious as hell to be expected to stay out of the fast lane so that Johnny Jump-Up with his yahoo speedmobile can blow past everyone at 80 MPH. If all the lanes are full, all the lanes are regular lanes.

    The real problem with Washington freeways is that no one knows how to drive, and thus all the cars are going different speeds — from 45 to 85, and everything in between, while their drivers are, I dunno, reading their phone? Dreaming of hamburgers? High on meth? Who the hell knows? If you drive on a California freeway, you will invariably see serried ranks of cars all traveling fast but TOGETHER, which makes things like four-lane zip-across exits possible. It’s a little hairy at first, but it’s a good system.

    As for mixing cars and bikes, I’ll take the average lead-footed but completely aware Cali driver over the typical Seattleite any old day. A typical Seattle driver has no idea where he is, where he’s going, or what’s around him, and won’t see a bicyclist even if he’s draped across the windshield.

    • asdf2 says:

      What about left exits? When buses travel eastbound across the 520 bridge, they have to be in the left lane to get to the Evergreen Point Bus stop. Under the law, buses would be required to maintain the speed limit all the way to the end of the bridge, then slam on the breaks immediately after pulling out of traffic in order to serve the bus stop.

      (Granted, the conditions of that exit should be much better when the new 520 bridge opens, but still…).

    • Tom says:

      “I also don’t have much patience for that “passing lane” idea”

      It’s not an idea, it is the law.

      “it’s obnoxious as hell to be expected to stay out of the fast lane so that Johnny Jump-Up with his yahoo speedmobile can blow past everyone at 80 MPH. ”

      Again, it is the passing lane, not the fast lane, and it is the law.

      “The people in the left lane who are “holding up traffic” are going 5-10 MPH over the speed limit, not under it. And the people who are annoyed by them want to go 10-20 MPH over. So my sympathy for their struggle is very limited indeed.”

      Ok, let me counter your straw man with an actual scenario from last weekend. Driving back from the coast somewhere between Ocean Shores and Olympia, very light traffic. I am cruising along at my normal 5-7 over on the freeway when I come across some yahoo driving just under the speed limit in the left lane. Will not get over even after riding along behind for some time (not tailgating) and even tried honking. Ultimately someone else comes along, passes us both on the right, and I end up That driver is lazy and selfish and it IS infuriating. Driving is an awful business and I thank Jeebus every day that I don’t have to get behind the wheel very often.

      And just to be clear, I’m not advocating unsafe driving or some crazy thunderdome dystopia. I am a cyclist, I commute every day on my bike, I hate aggressive, dangerous drivers. I would like to see all speed limits within the city limits, other than maybe a few designated thoroughfares, reduced to 20 mph and aggressively enforced. There is a big difference between city streets and the freeway though. The freeway is specifically for traveling long distances efficiently.

      I still think the proposed law is dumb though, we already have applicable laws on the books; they just need to be enforced.

  6. JAT says:

    Under this utopian vision how does a cyclist (for a tractor for that matter) make a left turn from a multi-lane roadway?

    As it is now, you check over your shoulder, signal, wait for an indication that the motorists see you and are going to leave a space for you (which they usually do, bless their hearts) and move from the right lane (as far right as practicable, mind you) to the left lane, and if there is one to the turn lane.

    Under this regime that would now potentially be a very expensive infraction – continuously is in the eye of the beholder, after all.

    • asdf2 says:

      I don’t think you would be breaking the law in that case, since you would be entering the left lane only briefly for turning, not riding in it continuously.

      • jay says:

        You don’t have to “think” you can “know”. The bill in question amends RCW 46.61.100, which, in a couple of places (which are not changed), says: “except when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit, or into a private road or driveway when a left turn is legally permitted”
        Though JAT has a point about “in the eye of the beholder”, much like speed limits, stop signs, stopping before turning right on red, yielding to pedestrians, and all the other “optional” things drivers deal with.

        But it doesn’t really matter, this bill hasn’t got a snowball’s chance.
        Which is actually unfortunate, if exceeding the speed limit is: ” prima facie evidence of the operation of a motor vehicle in a reckless manner” (RCW 46.61.465) (BTW. reckless driving is a gross misdemeanor, not more that 364 days in jail), and if going even one MPH below the limit gets one a fine, then no one will use the left lane. If no one is using the lane, might as well covert it to a HOT lane! Then the really important people can pay to drive there without the hoi polloi getting in their way, well except for the ones in busses, but if one bus gets 40 peasant’s cars off the road it’s probably worth it. Bet you thought the “war on cars” was between cars and “not cars”, but it’s not, “we have met the enemy and he is us” Hey, what do you know, Walt Kelley apparently wrote that for Earth day! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pogo_-_Earth_Day_1971_poster.jpg

  7. Nullbull says:

    And here is the culture of entitlement amongst drivers, laid bare. The law says a LIMIT is 60. But, if you’re driving that LIMIT in the left lane, you are “hogging the FAST lane.” So, we want a law that says it’s ILLEGAL to drive over 60 AND ILLEGAL to drive 60 in the left lane. And we’re doing this because the safety hazard in the case of someone driving the LIMIT in the left lane is THAT PERSON, and not the bumper-humper behind them.

    Screw it, call it a speed guideline. Stop using the word “limit,” because it is functionally not applicable. Clearly, drivers are so far past obeying the speed limit, it’s an illusion anyway. It’s not being enforced, it’s not being followed, and it’s pissing people off. Just drop it, it’s a joke. Drop stop signs while you’re at it, people don’t stop at them very much. We should probably pass a law that it’s illegal to stop at a stop sign if you don’t have to because of other traffic. But keep the law that requires that we stop at stop signs – because what we need is more totally arbitrary reasons for cops pulling people over.

    What a painfully stupid idea.

    • Cheif says:

      Or painfully brilliant.. Eventually criminalize all driving at, below or above the speed limit. Once driving is effectively illegal, vision zero comes into focus! :/

    • CP says:

      Missing the point.

      If there is a two lane highway (north bound lets say), and there are two cars traveling side by side each going exactly 59mph, the one in the left lane can/should get a ticket.

      Why? The car isn’t passing. The left lane is not the “fast” lane, it is the passing lane. Why is it called that folks? Well it is used to pass people.

      So NO. Its not about somehow forcing people to drive faster/slower, its about making sure that if you are an individual who prefers to drive slower that you do it in the right lane. This problem is especially prevalent in areas of Washington that do not have 4+ lane highways, where if you are stuck behind two timid drivers going 50mph than you are sh*t out of luck. Its obnoxious and selfish behavior, deeply rooted in the culture around here.

      Why is this so hard to comprehend?

      • Christin says:

        “If there is a two lane highway (north bound lets say), and there are two cars traveling side by side each going exactly 59mph, the one in the left lane can/should get a ticket.”

        This is already the law. The proposed bill raises the fine from $124 (inappropriate use of the left lane) to $151 (inappropriate use of the fast lane + 1-5 mph fee) with a stacking option of additional maliciously-derived penalties depending upon how slow the vehicle is. What is your justification for wanting to mandate additional penalties which only functionally serve as incentive to drive unsafely (ignoring road conditions)?

        The proposed bill encourages drivers to maintain the speed limit regardless of road conditions in direct opposition to WA state Driver’s guide: “The maximum limit should be driven only in ideal driving conditions and you must reduce your speed when conditions require it. “… “Some high speed roads have minimum speed limits and you are required to travel at least this fast so you are not a hazard to other drivers. If the minimum posted speed is too fast for you, use another road.”

        If you think a road needs a minimum speed limit then we should go ahead and make sure to post the minimum. I’ve never seen a “minimum” speed sign on I90, though I’d be interested to learn if any are posted.

        I think there is a communication issue here because we label our signs “limit” rather than “maximum or minimum”. We don’t need another law, we need better labeling practices.

      • Josh says:

        So, essentially, it’s about cutting the capacity of the highway in half when traffic is heavy enough that both lanes are congested. Doesn’t matter if there’s a car in front of you, if you’re going 59 mph in the left lane, you need to move right into the already-full right lane, so that someone else can drive 60 mph for the two car lengths it takes to catch up to the next car in the lane. Then, when they slow to 59 mph, they have to merge to the right, too.

        Slow traffic would essentially become a rotating paceline.

      • CP says:

        @Chief – I am from here. Where are you from guy? The Bellettini?

        @Christin – I know the current left-lane law, but I am not convinced enough people know/care about it.

        I don’t think I would say I support the proposed additional penalties, or that I have even said I do. I am not sure “negative” reinforcement works either. I would support, however, a positive method encouraging individuals to improve their driving habits and create a sense of “work together-ness” on the highway. As I mentioned before, LA drivers (in my case and as a quick example) seem to always try and help each other by merging/changing lanes to make room for other cars, etc. You rarely get that, if ever, in Seattle.

        The proposed law appears well intentioned, but poorly executed.

        @Josh – That’s only the current law. Left lane = passing. There is also (and the bike blog / transit blog like to point this out) no correlation between how many lanes (IE size of the highway) and a reduction in traffic. The only city/regional planning methods that appear to reduce traffic are multi-faceted plans that encourage multiple methods of safe and reliable travel (that and increasing density around employment centers, essentially removing the need for cars). If someone has the option to take a train, bus, bike, or walk to work than that is one less person sitting in the parking lot known as I-5.

      • Josh says:

        No, current law does not mandate driving the speed limit in the passing lane. If traffic is congested and you’re driving 45 passing traffic that’s going 40, you’re obeying current law, even if the driver behind you feels entitled to drive 60.

      • CP says:

        Josh – I am not sure what you are arguing about. Your original post hypothesized/satirized that the law is about cutting the highway capacity in half using a scenario that didn’t illustrate whether the 59 mph driver left lane driver was actually passing people or not. If he was NOT passing, than it is the law that he must move to the right lanes. If he IS passing cars, than he is perfectly fine where he is.

        In your new scenario if the highway is congested and the overall flow of traffic is 40 mph, I have no problem with someone passing on the left going 45 mph. Why? Because in that scenario that person is PASSING, that and it would be unsafe and probably legally impossible to travel 60 mph in those conditions.

        On a wide open highway, yes… you are a jerk if you feel entitled to travel 40 mph in the passing lane. That is hilariously unsafe, and selfish to impose YOUR driving style onto the rest of travelers. (Again, “you” does not mean specifically you as a commentator on here, but merely as a general term to describe a scenario). The status quo, and society expectations (IE flow of traffic), is typically hovering between 55 mph and 65 mph with bad egg drivers on both ends of the spectrum. A normal driver traveling 58 mph WOULD have to slam on their breaks if they suddenly came upon another driver traveling 40 mph (cause ya know they felt safe driving that slow and their feelings are more important than everyone else’s).

  8. Josh says:

    Part of the problem in the greater Seattle area is that our constrained geography and early Interstate construction leave us with plenty of left-lane exits and on-ramps. Those have exactly the same merging and lane-change issues as the usual right lane, so that driving the speed limit in the left lane is often too fast for conditions.

  9. scott t says:

    a good proposal if bummgartner will also propose that every stupid bill results in sever fines.

  10. pqbuffington says:

    It is just one more reminder that the myopic fantasy has taken total control…the reason we have congestion is that we are not driving fast enough, not that there is no space left to drive, fast or slow.

    And now we are talking of autonomous cars as a solution to congestion, which is to say, we can solve congestion with more cars. Does anyone think those that can will not have an autonomous car in conjunction – if not in tandem – with the car they are driving?

    In a way, the ride-sharing services do this as well in that they are not necessarily replacing several cars with one car, but simply making cars more convenient where they were once not so.

    Truly maddening if you consider all the monies these new solutions are taking out of the general economy for what will inevitably be diminishing returns.

  11. bill says:

    While I was idling on I-405 in Bellevue yesterday afternoon it occurred to me that this bill would reduce freeway capacity by one lane whenever there is a traffic jam. It would be a windfall for enforcement-happy jurisdictions like Lynnwood.

  12. Lucas W says:

    This is actually stealth congestion tolling, right? If too many cars forces speeds below the limit, everyone gets a ticket/toll (it would have to be camera enforced of course).

  13. traffic laws says:

    this would be a great law! people going below the speed limit negatively impact the traffic flow just as much as speeders. hope it passes

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