A bill moving through the Oregon Senate would make the left lane off-limits for everything but passing vehicles. The most common response to this, made by most anyone who has spent any amount of time on I-5 in Oregon, ranges between “Thank God” and “Can we now please raise the speed limit to reflect the speeds that people actually drive?”
On the other hand, a number of people will express surprise: “Wait, what’s wrong with driving slowly in the left lane?” These people are the problem.
If Senate Bill 511 goes through, these oblivious individuals will face penalties of up to $1,000. This isn’t a draconian overreach of a “nanny state”; this simply gives “enforcement authority” to the highway signs that read, “Slower Cars Stay Right.” Washington already has a similar law. The current law in Oregon allows passenger vehicles to cruise in a freeway’s left lane as long as it doesn’t impede “the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” The new bill would amend the current law by requiring “all vehicles to drive in the right lane.” There are obvious exceptions to this, of course—when passing, in heavy traffic, or if there’s an accident on the right-hand side.
Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland), the measure’s sponsor and someone well-acquainted with the issue, having to suffer the commute between Portland and Salem, comments, “If you’re not passing, stay out of the left lane. It’s really not that hard.”
She’s right, it’s not hard. And it’s a hell of a lot safer. The plague of Oregon drivers who camp out in the left lane—what people in other states know as “the fast lane”—aren’t merely infuriating, they’re dangerous. They instigate tailgating. They cause normally placid, law-abiding citizens to swerve into the right lane, hit the gas, roar past the drivers in the left lane, then cut back into the left lane before they rear-end a semi-truck.
The bill is currently being negotiated within the Senate Committee on Business and Transportation; it is expected to be released onto the House floor for debate soon. There’s a good chance it will pass.
by Nathaniel Brodie