Left-lane Laws: The choice makes a big difference

A multi-vehicle collision near the entrance to Victorian Estates on Highway 69 in 2013 had eastbound traffic backed up during the evening drive from Prescott.

Photo by Les Stukenberg.

A multi-vehicle collision near the entrance to Victorian Estates on Highway 69 in 2013 had eastbound traffic backed up during the evening drive from Prescott.

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Prescott Police and Fire personnel treat occupants and investigate the cause of this two-vehicle collision in 2014. Police briefly closed the westbound portion of Willow Lake Road to clean up the collision.

Here’s a state law that some people don’t know:

“On all roadways of sufficient width, a person shall drive a vehicle on the right half of the roadway except as follows: 1. When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing the movement…”

In other words, drivers should drive in the right lane unless they’re passing another vehicle.

“Also, some highways or interstates are posted, ‘Keep Right Except to Pass,’” State Trooper Kameron Lee said, noting that a trooper could also cite a driver who lingers in the left lane.

“Troopers do cite for this but, like any other enforcement action, our troopers have discretion on how they enforce these laws,” Lee said.

Aggressive driving

“We know it can be frustrating to drive behind a slow vehicle that is cruising in the left lane and not passing, or is passing at a speed just above the vehicle they are passing. Be patient, the goal is to get to your destination safely,” Lee said.

Troopers stop drivers if they feel their driving poses a hazard — and that includes driving too slowly.

“Driving too slow can be as hazardous as driving too fast, as other drivers become aggressive and make poor decisions due to frustration and anger,” DPS Captain G.R. Manera said.

He said a good rule of thumb is that if a driver sees traffic lining up behind their car, it’s wise to pull over and let the traffic pass. He calls doing this a “courtesy” to the other drivers.

It also “curtails aggressive behavior,” Manera said.

If you encounter an aggressive driver, Lee advises, “Do not engage in the behavior. It can be dangerous and you don’t know who you might be dealing with. When it is safe, move over to the right after you have completed your pass and let the vehicle go by.”

If the driver keeps acting erratically, and you think he’s a threat to public safety, call 911 and report it so police can try to stop the vehicle.

“Many calls like this have ended in arrests … once we make contact with that vehicle,” Lee said.

When an emergency vehicle approaches

Manera said some drivers are confused about what to do when there’s an approaching emergency vehicle responding to a call “code-3,” that is, with lights and siren activated.

“I have had the opportunity to drive code-3 over the past few weeks and have observed the following:

• Drivers pulling into the median, the left side. This can cause damage to vehicles. It is dangerous for the driver of the response vehicle because it is unexpected and can create a traffic hazard to re-enter traffic.

• Drivers talking on their cell phones or texting and unaware of the emergency vehicle behind them. Then, upon seeing the emergency vehicle, an abrupt lane change occurs. It is the responsibility of driver to be aware of their surroundings and follow the laws.

• Drivers not slowing down at all. The law states to slow down and come to a stop to allow emergency vehicles to clear. This allows the first responder to evaluate and respond to traffic up ahead and be prepared.

• Drivers getting in behind the emergency vehicle at an increased speed.”

Manera said the proper procedure is to slow down, pull to the right and stop to allow the emergency vehicle to pass, then slowly re-enter the roadway safely.

Move over 

Manera pointed out one more common infraction: failure of drivers to comply with the “move over” law. 

Drivers are required to move to the left when they approach any vehicle on the right shoulder with flashing lights. This includes emergency vehicles, construction vehicles, tow trucks, and disabled vehicles.

The law is intended to protect people involved with the stopped vehicle, who may not be paying close attention to traffic, from being struck.  

“From a law enforcement perspective, there is very limited area to conduct business on the side of the road and having a full lane between your traffic stop and vehicles traveling 75-miles-per-hour plus is a good buffer zone,” Manera said.