Why You Shouldn’t Drive In The Left Lane

When we think about safe driving, a few things come to mind: driving sober, wearing our seatbelts, checking our blind spots, driving defensively and cruising along in accordance with the speed limit all come to mind. But did you know that when it comes to driving speed, it’s your variance from the speed of the cars around you, NOT fast driving, that’s a larger predictor of accidents?

In fact, driving slowly in spots where other drivers around you are driving more quickly—aka, the left lane—is one of the largest predictors of accidents. Recently, Vox investigated the hazards of driving slowly in the left lane and explained why doing so can be a public safety hazard.

Why Is It Dangerous?

Vox’s video shows exactly why driving slowly in the left lane can be so dangerous. Before we get into that, though, let’s define “slowly.” Some drivers think that as long as they are driving in accordance with the speed limit, they are driving fast enough to use the left lane. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

As we mentioned above, it’s your variance from the average speed of cars around you that determines whether or not you’re driving slowly. People use the left lane in order to pass slow—or average-speed traffic in the right line. A driver who stays in the left lane, then, obstructs faster drivers from passing.

This has the effect of forcing faster drivers to weave between lanes, passing first on the left and then on the right. A higher number of lane changes dramatically increases the likelihood of accidents for everyone on the highway.

How Should Highways Work?

Ideally, left lanes (in the U.S. and other right side-driving countries) are reserved for passing only. Cars only move into the left lane when there’s a slower vehicle ahead of them in the right lane.

Many traffic coordinators look to Germany’s Autobahn as a source of guidance. Though people drive at great speeds along the Autobahn (there is no marked speed limit) they see much lower accident rates than we see here in the U.S. Many engineers attribute this to using the passing lane for, well, passing, rather than treating it as a space to drive in indefinitely.

Incentives to Drive Safely

Many states have prohibited the use of “parking” in the left lane. All states have some restriction or another on staying in the left lane indefinitely.

“In 29 states …” reports Vox, “the law says any car that’s moving slower than the “normal speed of traffic” should be in the right lane—so even if it’s going at the speed limit, a car that’s not moving as fast as the other cars around shouldn’t be in the left lane.” Meanwhile, “In 11 states … the laws are even stricter — specifically saying the left lane is only for turning or passing.”

The bottom line? Use the left lane only for short periods of time, and use it for its intended purpose: to pass slower traffic in the right lane.

192 comments

JT Smith
Past Member 5 months ago

I always drive in the left lane (on 4 lane highways, the middle lane on 6 lane highways), but then I drive no faster than the vehicle in front of me and no slower than the one behind me. I've also found that staying in the left lane allows vehicles trying to merge from the on-ramp have more room and a better chance of being able to properly use the ramp to get up to speed so that when they do get on the highway they're not starting out so much slower than the rest of the traffic.

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen9 months ago

Thank you

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen9 months ago

Thank you

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Clare O
Clare Oabout a year ago

Lucky to have more than one lane.

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Clare O
Clare Oabout a year ago

Only if you're in America I think.

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Clare O
Clare Oabout a year ago

Some of those cars in the picture don't have number plates. Is that legal?

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Jennifer F
Jennifer Fabout a year ago

Common sense if you have a driver's license!

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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