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New left lane law might mean progress

If you think the state legislature has been pretty worthless overall, take heart. A new bill is in the works that will certain cross party lines and benefit all of society.

Senate Bill 303 -- No Hs, no Bs no 2s -- would slap a $200 fine on drivers who drive below the speed limit in the left lane or "impede the flow of traffic," unless the driver is passing or getting ready to make a left turn.

Just to clarify: this does refer to four lane roads, not the two lanes that make up most of the county.

The bill is being put forth by three Republicans: Jeff Tarte of Mecklenburg County, Tom McInnis of Rockingham and Jim Davis of Macon County.

The bill defines "impeding" to mean when a "person knows or reasonably should know that he or she is being overtaken from the rear by a vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed." It only applies to interstates and freeways and as Tarte told the Raleigh News and Observer, "The left lane is not for cruising, it's for passing," said Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Mecklenburg County Republican who sponsored the bill. "The basic driver behind this was our law enforcement. It impedes and promulgates congestion on the roads and it actually contributes to road rage."

North Carolina law already says that drivers are to keep right unless passing, but has no penalties on the books. If this bill becomes law, it would make North Carolina the fifth state to take action against lollygaggers.

Personally, I've been on both sides of this issue, and really it comes down to common courtesy on the roadway. And while it seems like a common sense idea, there are situations that mean some judgment calls will have to take place.

People who have ridden with me will verify that I'm no speed demon. I readily admit this, for two reasons: 1. Having already cheated death, I am in no big hurry to get anywhere 2. I have a 16-year-old driver in the house which has raised my car insurance rates to somewhere between "are you kidding me" and the gross domestic product of Rhode Island.

I do try to stay out of the left lane as a general rule, and will admit I've lingered too long on occasion, most often on Highway 64, and am generally embarrassed when I realize I'm "that guy." This is infrequent, but other drivers complicate things.

For example, there are drivers who take an attempt to pass them on Highway 64 as an insult to their manhood or womanhood or whatever they choose to identify as hood. They immediately speed up to a pace that would have given me no need to attempt to pass at all. Instead, I'm trapped as a lingerer.

Then, there are drivers who exit onto Highway 64 as if they are coming out of the pits at Charlotte Motor Speedway. They are coming over into that merge lane, swearing on the very "Salt Life" or flip-flop sticker on their back windows that they will not be denied that spot in front of me, and not behind.

I don't mind giving these folks some space and easing over -- we all just want to get to work in one piece, I think -- but it seems like whatever it is that causes this intense desire to trade paint after leaving one of the fast food place drive thru lanes (the evidence is visible, biscuit at 10 or 2 on the wheel), causes an equal reaction to the drivers behind me to suddenly become overwhelmed with the urge to get close enough to my backside to tell what's playing on the radio.

These drivers, mere blips a second before, appear up close. As I change lanes, to slide back to the right, they immediately slow their pace as well, driving alongside me it seems at least until the Nash Community College exit. The grass must be greener in the center median after all.

Equally frustrating are the people are plug along in the left lane as though they've just discovered, "hey, it's not as crowded over here, I wonder why all those losers are in the right lane, when it is so roomy." They are oblivious when drivers go right then back left as they plug along a good 10 mph under the limit. I think they are the ones the law is written about.

However, as optimistic as I try to be, my expectations for enforcement of this law are low. As we all know, it is illegal, and incredibly dangerous to text and drive, and for some folks, to talk on the phone and drive. Not a day passes that I don't get behind someone who is changing speeds, or crowding the centerline, or wobbling back and forth across the lane.

Fifteen years ago, we'd have such a driver had been drinking; now, we see two hands on a phone, sometimes with eyeglasses lifted, trying to read and text back. Despite the accidents that happen everyday because of this, it is rampant. It can often be seen at stoplights as well. What pressing things in life do we have that supersede the priority of operating a two-ton piece of machinery at 70 mph?

At any rate, this law, if passed might ease up some road rage, or at least provide remedy beyond hand gestures for those caught behind moving roadblocks.

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